Last week on Feb 13th, I finally landed at Kota Kinabalu International Airport at the capital of Sabah. This was the day that I have been long waiting for; the day when I can return to and serve to my home country. I am glad and relieved that I finally finished the prolonged education process in the US at the age of 42. This joy is not only cherished by myself and my family, but also by many friends, colleagues and supporters across the world.
Over the following few days my schedule was packed with meeting officials from Sabah Wildlife Department, NGOs and the LEAP team, accompanied by their handshakes. "Wong is back!" However, these warm welcomes were also accompanied by the bad news of more baby sun bears having been confiscated by the Wildlife Department or being kept as pets by villagers. Even worse, was the sad news of the death of Ah Chong on the morning of Feb 15th. Ah Chong was a sweet but old male sun bear who came to us 10 years ago. The necropsy of Ah Chong performed by Dr. Diana Ramirez on the next day indicated that his death was due to Congestive Heart Failure caused by an abnormal heart that associated with genetic abnormality. May you rest in peace Ah Chong! You will be missed in our life always!
On Feb 18th, I finally travelled from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan where the BSBCC is based. Wai Pak picked me up from the Sandakan airport. We went straight from the airport to the BSBCC to see the sun bears. It was really good to be back again to see that both the facility and the bears are growing. The sun bears greeted me with their curious sniff on my hand, which I think they still recognized my smell except for a few newcomers whom I had never meet who had no idea who I was.
My first meeting with Natalie the baby sun bear was an unforgotten one. Her loveliness and adorableness is something beyond anything human language can possibly describe. Her condition is much more stable now with increased appetite and she is slowly gaining weight. Her diarrhea problem, which was a concern during the first few weeks after her arrival also seem to be under control. She has passed the most vulnerable stage as an infant and starting to eat solid food and growing stronger. Her relatively big eyes, small ears, short but soft hairs really caught my eyes and my heart. Beside the cuteness of her little black hairy body, I really hope that we all can understand the reason she is here because of poaching, illegal logging, pet trade, with high likelihood that her mother had been killed.
During the first few days I am at the centre everyone on the ground was working really hard: Wai Pak the project manager had overseen all of the operations on the ground and was working around the clock; David and Daniel the animal keepers keep busy with their daily routine taking care of the bears with the helps from volunteers Marianne Sim, Paul Clenton, Janine Pickwick, and John Lane; A group of 15 volunteers from Raleigh International working tirelessly to build the perimeter fencing of the outdoor enclosure. Thank you all for all your help!
Today marks the first week I am back to Sabah. Over the last seven days, we discussed many plans and events that to be take place in the near future: a fund raising event that will take place in Sepilok that involves local corporate and community; a fund raising event took place on facebook, an ambitious research project using camera trapping data, GIS, and radio-telemetry techniques to study the important of corridors at Kinabatangan River area involving multiple focal wildlife species including sun bears; a phylogenic study on sun bear across SE Asia; and on Feb 24th, I am going to Krau Wildlife Reserve in Peninsula Malaysia to assist a graduate student studying wild sun bears.
A busy schedule lies ahead for sure for sun bears and the development of BSBCC.
I am finally home. It is good to be home!
It all begun here in Missoula, Montana, USA, 17 years ago when I first came to the University of Montana in the summer of 1994 to pursue my first degree (B.Sc) in wildlife biology. It was here where I met my advisor Dr. Chris Servheen, whom at that time was looking for a Malaysian student to conduct a study on sun bear ecology in Malaysia. The meeting with Chris changed my life thereafter- I conducted the very first ecological study of sun bear for my M.Sc degree and then follow by my PhD study, both under the supervision of Chris. In 2008, because of all the work and love on sun bears, I founded the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo. After 17 years studying, training, and working in the field, I finally finished my prolong higher education, and wrapped up my stay in Missoula tonight.
Goodbye Missoula! Tonight is the last night I spend in this little town of Missoula in a mountain valley of the Rocky Mountain. A heavy snow storm hit this part of the Rockies this morning, pouring half a foot of snow, making my final moving and cleaning of the townhouse apartment where my family and I stayed for the last 2.5 years difficult, but did not deter the moving process. It is here in Missoula that I first learn about how friendly and kind people can be to each other. In Missoula, people greed each others; bus drivers greet all passengers when they hop into the bus, and wish them have a very good day when they take off the bus; friends give each other big bear hugs when saying goodbye. It is here in Missoula, my family and I received tremendous helps and supports from many friends from the university, and local church communities. To me, these friends are not just friends; they are my family, my brothers and sisters, my parents, my grandparents, and my children. My family and I would like to thank John and Barbara, Jolinda and Ben, the late Pat and Dick Taber, Ted and Carol, Sam and Tammy, CK and Hui Ling, Mei Hui and Dr. Hao, Vincent and Wai Fong, Jedediah, Rosa, Mei Hua, Emma, Andrew, Sim, Rita and Tyron, Chris, Rebecca and Kate, Dan, Jeanne, Effie, River, and all our friends from International Student Christian Fellowship and Taiwanese Student Association, teachers and friends from Lewis and Clark School, and many more, for their friendship, kinship, kindness, helps and support to me and my family. We will never forget you all!
I had a productive stay in Missoula. In this little town at the foothill of Mt Sentinel, I produced 5 certificates; three certificates from University of Montana- home to the Grizzlies, and two birth certificates of my two lovely daughters Winnie and Evelyn. Missoula is a very special place to me, both my personal life and my professional and academic life. I am considering myself as Missoulian!
Tonight is the last night my family and I spend in Missoula. Tomorrow we will be flying back to Taiwan to spend the Chinese New Year with my wife's family, and then I continue my journey to Malaysia on February 13 to start a new career and new life. Chris Morgan left me a message on my facebook regarding my return to Malaysia two days ago: "America's loss but Borneo's gain." Well said Chris!
However, I think there is no loss or gain. My return to Asia is the way it should be eventually because I am needed most in my country. I can hear she is calling for me. From the first day I came here to Missoula in 1994, I am mean to return home to serve my country once my study is completed. Now, it is the time for me to return after the completion of my doctorate study. Tonight is the last night.
Goodbye Missoula! My family and I had uncountable joyful moments, sweet memories, and happy stories from the 12.5 years of stay in Missoula.
Thank you Missoula! May you always be happy, joyful, well, & at safety & peace!