Text and photos by Siew Te Wong
Thanks to the generous funding from the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia (MOTOUR http://www.motour.gov.my/ ) through Sabah Wildlife Department, 3 components in the developmental plans of BSBCC are almost complete after 5 months of construction. These 3 components are the:
1) Visitor Access Walkway from the Car Park
2) Observation Platform
3) The access road to the 1st new bear house and the Visitor Briefing Area.
Here are photos taken on Feb 27th.
As you can see, we are getting there!!
Text and photos by Siew Te Wong
Time flies, Fulung the male sun bear cub that Sabah Wildlife Department rescued from Long Pasir last August is now more than a year old. Mary, the female sun bear cub that we rescued last September, also is a year old now. Both cubs, or "yearlings" by now they should be called, require a lot of exercises such as biting, climbing and digging and everything that you can think of to grow big and strong. After several months under our care, both of them grow bigger and strong, especially Mary.
Mary used be a lot smaller than Fulung. When we placed them together for the first time, Fulung used to me much more bigger than Mary. Fulung used to be the big bully but Mary always tried her best to fight back. Well, not really fight but play fight. Sometime we have to intervene the play fight when Mary started to be annoyed by the big bully Fulung. After all, the sun bear style play fights can be rough and damaging.
Sun bear cubs have a period where they grow very fast, typically when they are 5 to 10 months when they can gain 3-4 kg each month. Mary too, was no exception. During the first time when we mixed Mary and Fulung together Mary was about half the size of Fulung. Now after 4 months Mary caught up with her growth and reaches only slightly smaller than Fulung.
A photo worth a thousand words. Here are photos of Mary and Fulung I took during a 3 min play fight.
*Warning* Cute sun bear cub photos! DO NOT KEEP SUN BEAR CUBS AS PETS!
Episode 2: “Saving the World’s Smallest Bear”
Guest: Siew Te Wong, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
Host: Rhishja Cota-Larson
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Feb 21, 2012
Text and photos by Siew Te Wong
Today 40 junior high school students from Singapore International School visited BSBCC. These visitors were led by APE Malaysia (Animal Project and Environment Education) http://www.apemalaysia.com/index.php
These students came from more than 10 different countries across the world. We separated the students into two groups of 20 students to ease management and logistics on the ground. Today's program begun with an hour long lecture about sun bears and their conservation stories given by me, followed by doing an observation on our few of our sun bears who stayed in the bear house. The students were asked to record their behavior for 15 minutes. After that we talked about the idea of enrichment for these animals and asked the students to create their own enrichment items for the bears. They then record the bear's behavior for another 15 minutes with the enrichment items that they created and compared the results pre-and post enrichment items given to the bears. The idea behind this simple, yet meaningful exercise was to let the students know the important of enrichments for captive animals. In addition, the students also got to witness how smart sun bears were when they played and figured out ways to get into the rewards- honey, fruit jams, nuts, and even canned sardines.I see hope. The future of the sun bear relies on EDUCATION!
Needless to say, these kids learned a lot about sun bears and have few hours of up-close-and personal experience with the sun bears. Now they know the conservation issues faced by the sun bears fighting for their survival. They also got to witness how special and unique sun bears are. Everyone just fall in love with the bears.
At the end of the morning session, one girl came to me, "Can I stay here all day?"
I paused, smiled and did not know how to reply her.
The same exercise repeated again for the other 20 students group. At the end of the day, everyone was tired (at lease I was, after giving the second hour long lecture). The students were very kind to deliver a donation to BSBCC before they boarded into the bus. Thank you kiddo!
Text and photos by Siew Te Wong
On the night of Feb 20th, BSBCC received another new rescued sun bear from the Sabah Wildlife Department Wildlife Rescue Unit. This female sun bear yearling (1-2 year old bear), that we named "Koko" is the latest rescued sun bear by Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC.
Koko appeared to be healthy and in good body condition. She was calmed on the night she arrived at the centre. We place her at a temporary cage for the time being until her new den is ready in few days. The next day after recovering from the stress associated from the transportation, Koko seems to be a bit feisty when I approached her. However, she got a good appetite and took all the food we gave her.
I called the Koko's owner Robert from Telipok this morning to understand more about the story behind Koko. Apparently Koko was captured by a hunter (poacher) originally from Keningau on a hunting (poaching) trip early last year. Koko's mother probably being killed by the poacher and Koko was kept as pet at the same time looking for a potential buyer. This is a typical story of almost all rescued sun bear in BSBCC. Robert heard from his friend about a sun bear cub for sale. He paid RM350 for Koko and realized that she is no longer a small, cute cub. He later seeks advice from his friend who works with the Sabah Wildlife Department. The wildlife department staff convinced him to surrender Koko to the Sabah Wildlife Department. They sent Koko to SWD's Lok Kawi Zoo last weekend and the zoo sent her to us on Monday night.
With 25 rescued sun bears under the care of BSBCC, the urgency of building another new bear house is escalating. At the moment our capacity is only for 20 sun bears. This is the 2nd sun bear cubs we received in approximately one month time and we do not know how many sun bear will be rescued and be sent to BSBCC in the near future. We can only be glad that we are here to help these animals and never happy to see they end up at BSBCC. We have to stop all illegal activities such as poaching, killing, eating, and keeping sun bears. Please help BSBCC to achieve these goals.
Read more on how you can help us and the sun bears:
Caged, pet sun bears have a sad life. From the day they were captured and kept as pet, most of them will NEVER touch the soil, climb the trees, and dig the ground again.
Many of our rescued sun bears also have the same fate. However, with our state of the art forest enclosure, the rescued sun bears at BSBCC have the chance to enjoy the forest.
Bermuda, a 10 year old male sun bear at BSBCC, was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on October 10, 2002. He live on a concrete floor since he was captured from the wild as a little sun bear cub. For him, the ground is always a smooth layer of concrete floor, until today.
Bermuda finally passed his electric fence training lately. We let him out to his forest enclosure for the first time on Valentine Day Feb 14th. We put food, and honey (all time favorite food for bears) on the ramp to encourage/lure him out of his den. What he did that entire day was pocked his head out to reach the food and honey on the ramp without stepping a foot on the ramp.
This is a very pathetic story for all caged sun bears. To all of them, confined and locked up in a small cage is life. They do not know the world beyond the cage. Rain, soil, trees, leaf litters and other natural vegetations and natural elements in the forest all are something that they never come in contact. The only time when they walked on the forest floor was during the first few weeks or months of their life, until their mothers were killed and they were captured by poachers. To them, forest is an alien nation, fills with unknown bugs and unknown noise; the place that is so strange, unsecure and uncertain. All of our adult bears decided to stay inside the den and not wondering into the forest enclosure when we released them out to the forest enclosure for the first time. It sometime took them weeks if not months to wonder out from their den. Only the young once would go out immediately and enjoy the forest without second thoughts.
Bermuda's reaction when we let him out to the forest enclosure was not exception on Valentine Day. Over the next week or so he still kept himself safe under the protection of his den although the door to forest enclosure was staying open all day long. The food that we left on the ramp and the forest floor has attracted troops of forest bandits - pig-tailed macaques and long-tailed macaques, to enjoy their free meals. Bermuda, sometime I questioned his "male-hood," just stood in his den and watched his food being stolen away by these intelligent primates.
This afternoon as I was writing another blog on Fulung and Mary, Marianne our volunteer from UK rushed into the office, "Bermuda is out to his forest enclosure!" Wai Pak and I grasped our cameras and went down to witness this historic moment. This is the moment where he step foot on the forest floor for the first time in more than 10 years and we do not want to miss that! Although he did not wonder off far from the guillotine door of his den, we can tell from his fast pacing behavior that he was nerves and wanted to go back. Wai Pak then scattered some bread in the enclosure to encourage him foraging and exploring a bit more. He just ate the bread that was close to him without much exploration. After tens of minutes, he finally found his way back to his den and did not come out to explore again.
That was a good start for a captive sun bear willing to wonder off his den on the 7th day. Gutuk, another old male bear still decided to confine himself in his den although the door to the forest enclosure has been open for the past 3 months. I am sure Bermuda soon will gain more confidence to explore the forest enclosure. What he need is time and encouragement. In BSBCC, we will give him both!
Text by Siew Te Wong; Photo by Pia Sundstrom
Debbie the female sun bear cub was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on January 6th and sent to us on the following day. Today (Feb 16,) we did the first health check for Debbie since she was sent here about a month ago. The check up is a routine check up for all new bears house in BSBCC to inspect abnormality, potential diseases, and body condition. Debbie was sedated by the Veterinarian from Sabah Wildlife Department and Orangutan Appeal UK Dr. Nigel Hicks and senior ranger Mr. Elis Tambing. All of the handling process went well. We also took body measurements, where she tipped the scale at 13 kg, hair samples, and blood sample. Everything looks pretty good for her. Although we did not weigh her when she first came here, I am sure that she has again few kilograms over the past 5 weeks and deposited some fat on her as well as we found out during the check up. Once the blood test results came back and clear for any diseases, she will join the party of Mary and Fulung to form the sun bear cub gang. For the youngster, there are no better enrichment than the companionship of other cubs when they are in captivity. Together they can interact with each other, play fight with each other, support with each other, and snuggle with each other!
Grow well Debbie! We are glad that you are in our care.
Sun bear holds many world's records.
Sun bear is the world's smallest bear species. However, they have the longest tongue, longest claws, and largest canines relatively to their size if compares to other bear species.
They are the world's most arboreal bear species. Yet, sun bear is the world's least known bears. They are the least studied bear species. I often refer them as the forgotten species.
Sun bears are nothing but amazing and fascinating! I knew it from years of studying them and working closely with them. It is ashamed that very few people in the world know much about them. For such an little known species, what sun bear need is an army of media coverage, range from the smallest smart phones, tiny news papers columns, articles in magazines, books, internet websites, youtube videos, TV programs and documentaries, and all the way to big screen feature-length films in cinema. Yes, feature-length films like movies!
As sun bear biologist, I am frustrated all these years by having difficulties to reach people, many people indeed, to share the stories and the plights of the sun bears. That frustration however, was slowly disappeared when Chris Morgan first contacted me about a proposed full length feature film call the BEARTREK in 2005. BEARTREK is a wildlife film produce by Wildlife Media Inc. features Brown bears in Alaska, Sun Bears in Borneo, Andean Bears in Peru, and Polar Bears in Canada. Wildlife Media is making a difference for bears and other wildlife through direct project funding and awareness-building.
"Film can change the world"
For BEARTREK, it will change the fate, the future, and conservation of sun bear. The numbers of people BEARTREK will reach and the amount of influence BEARTREK on sun bear is beyond anyone's imagination. It will be huge, be vast, be significant. Many people across the world will see sun bear, learn about sun bear, and know how special sun bears are for the first time in their life from BEARTREK. All of this knowledge is important for us to save sun bear from extinction as well as their habitat from deforestation. It has been 5 years now I anticipate the project to be completed. At the beginning of each year I pray that the movie will be completed in that year because we need the world to know about the plight of sun bear and their conservation issues urgently. Sun bears and their tropical rainforest habitat need immediate attention and have no time to wait.
"What is good for bears is good for people" is what Chris Morgan always said. "Protect bear habitat and you will protect fresh water, healthy forests, and clean air. No other species captures the human imagination like bears. They amaze us with their power, appearance, intelligence, and adaptability; attributes that have led to human admiration and respect for millennia."
Like all film productions, BEARTREK is no exception of in need funding to achieve its goals. I am urging you to support Wildlife Media and the production of BEARTREK. I am thankful to those of you who have supported BEARTREK. I also thank Chris, Joe and this team to put this movie together.
You can learn more about BEARTREK and Chris Morgan's works at:
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In the tropical forest of Southeast Asia, live a bear species call sun bears. These bears are small, the smallest of all the eight living bear species, and have black fur that are not easy to be spotted when they forage on the dark forest floor under the multi-layers forest canopies.
Sun bears are the tree loving bears. They are forest dependent species. They live their life completely in the forest. Without the forest, there will not be habitat for the sun bears. They need the trees to survive because these trees, not few trees, but a lot of tress make a healthy forest where sun bears and other forest inhabitants can find sufficient food, shelters, mates, and propagate.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre aims to conserve sun bears through improve animal welfare for captive sun bears, raise conservation awareness for sun bear with education programs, conduct research to learn more about this little known bears, and rehabilitate pet sun bears into the wild.
By working closely with Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Department, we rescued pets, ex-captive sun bears from tiny cages. We build forest enclosures so that they can have access to the forest. We educate the public to raise awareness on conservation and the plights of the sun bear.
We love sun bears the tree loving bears! How about you?
Photo credit: Marc Anderson
Original posted at http://www.ecoknights.org.my/component/content/article/28/1317-bear-necessity-a-walk-on-the-wild-side-with-dr-wong-siew-te.html
Wong's notes: Thank you Ecoknights' founder Yasmin Ras for interviewing and running this interview at their website. Thank you!
A special EcoKnights spotlight this month focuses on Malaysian wildlife biologist Wong Siew Te, CEO of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sabah. The EK crew was very privileged to have met Wong last year during the Borneo Eco Film Festival, organized with the kind assistance of Anton Ngui.
Born in 1969 and raised in Penang (a state in the northern Peninsular Malaysia), Wong has always been an animal lover. It all started when he had a special interest in wildlife when he was studying for his animal husbandry and veterinary degree. When the opportunity came to take wildlife biology seriously, Wong jumped at the chance to work with his then academic advisor Dr Christopher Servheen on an ecological study of the sun bears. Armed with passion and dedication, his academic study on these threatened bears led to a conservation achievement in which he was then appointed as the Co-Chairperson of the Sun Bear Expert Team for the IUCN/SSC Bear Specialist Group from 2002-2005.
EcoKnights salutes Wong for his amazing dedication and effort in studying and working on the ecological conservation of the sun bear for the last 13 years.
Today, Wong is the CEO of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, which he founded in 2008. He was also a fellow of the Flying Elephants Foundation, which awards individuals from a broad range of disciplines in the arts and sciences who have demonstrated singular creativity, passion, integrity and leadership and whose work inspires a reverence for the natural world.
Here's an up, close and personal interview with Wong Siew Te.
EK: Can you tell us about your background (education and career), your current position at the Conservatory and what your roles are there at the Conservatory?
WST: I work closely with animals all my life. Since I was a little tot, I kept all kind of animals as pets. After high school, I went to Taiwan to obtain a diploma in Animal Science and Veterinary. Four years later, I pursued my bachelor degree in Wildlife Biology at the University of Montana, USA, followed by a Masters degree and a PhD degree all from the same university. Unfortunately I did not earn my doctorate at the very end due to unforeseen circumstances. I studied the ecology of Malayan sun bears for my Masters degree and the effects of selective logging on bearded pigs on my doctorate. In 2008, I founded the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok, Sandakan, Sabah and have hold the position of Chief Executive Office since then.
EK: Have you always been interested in conservation? How did it start?? Is your family supportive? Do your children understand what their dad does for a living?
WST: I love animals since childhood and have kept all kind of pets: birds, fishes, cat, rabbits, mice, turtles, civets, and many carnivorous insects. My father was the one who brought me these pets at that time and gave me a lot of encouragement to keep these pets. During my teenage years, I became a pretty successful breeder breeding birds, fishes, and dogs. However, I did not have any interest in conservation until I was 20 years old simply because I never know about conservation until then. My career with conservation started from bird watching during my teenage years before I actually know there was an outdoor activity call "bird watching." During my first year of study in Taiwan I joined the "Bird Watching Society" in our university and started to know about conservation. After I earned the diploma in Animal Science and Veterinary program, I worked as a research assistant for a wildlife professor at the same university in Taiwan.
During the two years as a research assistant, I was involved in several research projects on fauna surveys, setting up of a rescue centre for endangered species, and radio-telemetry studies on barking deer in Taiwan. All of these activities helped my future research and conservation works in many ways. My family has been supportive of my work although they wanted me to be with them all the time. I think there is no perfect world when you are in the field of conservation. We gain at the same time lose a lot as well. My eldest daughter somewhat understands my conservation work. She has been talking highly about my work in school to her friends. My youngest daughter who is 7 still needs a few more years to understand what her father does for a living and why I am always not around the family, especially to her friends.
EK: Please tell us about the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), a bit of history, the goals and what the centre hopes to achieve? Has the centre reached some of the goals it was set out to do?
WST: I first had the idea of setting up a centre to rescue caged sun bears back in 2004 when I did a survey of captive sun bears across Malaysia. During the survey, I encountered many captive sun bears locked up in small metal cages kept as pets, displayed to attract tourists, or some of them were confiscated by the authorities. Sun bears are a protected species in Malaysia. However, the lack of enforcement on the wildlife protection laws and lack of capacity, interest, and resources to properly house these bears has caused all of the sun bears to be housed in substandard, pathetic and disgusting condition. In addition, sun bears remain as the least known bear in the world and one of the most neglected large mammals in SE Asia. Therefore there is a need to set up a facility that helps sun bears with a holistic approach. In 2008 I set up the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) with the partnership from Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and LEAP, a NGO base in Sabah.
The primary goal of this project is to promote sun bear conservation in Borneo by (1) creating the capacity to confiscate, rehabilitate and release suitable orphaned and ex-captive bears back into the wild; (2) providing an improved long-term living environment for captive bears that cannot be released; (3) educating the public and raising awareness about this species; and (4) achieving increased protection for sun bears and their habitat through ongoing research, increased knowledge and awareness, and further protection of habitat.
Over the last four year we have been working hard to raise funds to set up the centre. Although the centre is not yet fully established and not yet open to the public, we have achieved several goals such as rescuing and housing 27 rescued pet sun bears, conducting many education outreach programs for school groups who wish to learn more about the sun bears and their habitat.
EK: I understand fundraising is always a tough part of conservation. How has it been in terms of support from the public, corporate organizations and government? Who are your supporters and/or funders so far?
WST: The supports from the public, corporate, and government has been moderately encouraging over the past few years. Majority of our construction funds were provide from tax payers money through government funding, whereas our operation fund come from public support and corporates. Our funders include Sabah State Government, the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, several zoos in US, and many individual online donations and Facebook funds raised from small donors across the world.
EK: What kind of manpower and financial requirements does the centre take to sustain itself? Is it sufficient? How can a reader of this article help?
BSBCC so far has four full time staff- 2 animal keepers, a project manager, and me as the CEO. Our typical monthly expenses range from RM15, 000-RM20, 000. Over the past four years we have over 700 volunteers helping us on various tasks to taking care of our bears and setting up the centre. All of these man power and expenses seems a lot but it is at the minimum level. It is not sufficient. When we open to public, the staff capacity will increase from 4 to 17 staff, this mean that we need more funds to pay salaries and other relevant expenses.
Like all conservation programs in the world, the amount of conservation works we can achieve to help save any species is dependent on the amount of funding we can generate. Our efforts to help save sun bears in Malaysia are no exceptions.
First, we need to raise sufficient funds so that we could set up the centre, run the conservation programs, take care of the rescued bears, etc. We need funding to do them all. The most direct way for you to help our efforts is donating fund or help us raise fund. They can make the donation online at: http://www.leapspiral.org/content/suppor… or write to me at email@example.com.
We also have a Facebook page cause setup where people can join our cause and make their donations at http://www.causes.com/causes/95651.
Unlike tigers, pandas, and rhinos where most people know more about, the sun bear is the least known bear in the world and one of the neglected large mammals in Southeast Asia. The lack of knowledge about the species and their plights among the public is a big obstacle for the conservation efforts to save sun bears. Everyone can help us to raise awareness of the sun bears simply by spreading the words about our cause and the sun bears. Internet has become an important tool to communicate with friends across the world.
Joining our Facebook cause http://www.causes.com/causes/95651) and repost our blogs http://sunbears.wildlifedirect.org/), could help us spread the words and message for sure.
The last thing about how other people can help us is what I always tell people on how they can help us: “do what you do best to help us!” If you are a writer, you can help us write about sun bears and our work; if you are a film maker, help us produce a film about the sun bears; if you are a scholar, help us conduct studies on sun bears, etc. In short, do what you do best!
EK: Can you share some of your successful, emotional/sad and difficult moments at the centre? The challenges you and the centre had to face?
WST: To me, the setting up of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre from nothing to what it is today is the biggest success story. In addition, rescuing every pet sun bear and bringing them to our centre are all successful stories. Imagine all of our rescued sun bears were capture from the wild since they were cubs after their mother were probably killed by poachers. They were then being locked up in small metal cages for a long time until they were rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to us. At our centre, these sun bears are no longer confined to small cages and no longer displayed the very serious stereotypic pacing behavior. They have access to the forest enclosure where they can climb the tress, dig the soil and break decayed woods to look for insects and other invertebrates. Last February I came back from US and saw these rescued sun bears foraging in the forest enclosure for the first time. I broke into tears seeing them live like wild bears. I am so happy all the hard work finally pays off. No one has any idea how much effort I put in and how much sacrifice I have made to make this happen. This is the first step for BSBCC- to improve their welfare. I have done it. No, WE have done it!
The challenges that I and the Centre have face since the beginning have always been funding. Excluding the operational expenses, the capital or the funding on buildings required more than RM 5 million. These are by far the biggest challenge that I have to face when I decided to found this project almost four years ago. Luckily thanks to many very dedicated person and partners, we are more than half way to raise the funds and heading towards the right direction. Looking at the fact that the global economy took for a negative turn when the Centre was set up, I must say we have pulled through one of the most difficult times.
EK: What gives you strength?
WST: laughs*). I do not know what gives me strength. However, what I do know is that I love animals, I love bears. I feel very happy if I can help them when they are in trouble and needed helps. Or perhaps my nature of optimism and tenacity gave me strength to do what I have accomplished. Last year I "walked" our rescued orphan sun bear cubs: Natalie, Fulung, and Mary, in the forest. They treated me like their mother and trusted me to protect them. At that time I was thinking what would be a more meaningful career to do in my life than helping these orphan cubs return to the forest? After all these years in this field, I felt like the closer I work with animals, the more strength and energy I have to help them. Perhaps the wildlife and the forest give me the strength and energy to continue working closely with wildlife. This is like a positive feedback loop that fuels me do more and more work in conservation.
EK: What are the threats and issues the sun bears are facing in this country? What are some of the ways that need to be emphasized and/or enforced? What is the reality/future of sun bears in Malaysia? Globally?
WST: Sun bears in Malaysia face the threats from habitat lost, poaching for their body parts, and keeping bear cubs as pets. The threat from habitat lost accelerated since the 60"s when vast lowland rainforest in Malaysia were cleared for agriculture and development until recently. Over the last few years, poaching has been a serious threat to sun bears in Malaysia, partly fueled by the international wildlife trade. Keeping sun bear cubs as pets was exacerbated by both forest clearing and poaching activities when loggers and poachers killed mother bears and captured their cubs.
Sun bears are a totally protected species in Malaysia. No one is allowed to kill, to harm, to sell, to keep and to harass sun bear. However due to the lack of interest to enforce wildlife protection laws by the authority and lack general conservation awareness of sun bears by the general public, unlawful activities of killing and harming sun bears persist.
In order to save sun bears, the wildlife authority and law enforcement agencies MUST enforce wildlife protection laws seriously. Any offenders MUST be prosecute and punish with maximum penalties in order to deter any illegal activities of killing and harming sun bears. General public and wildlife conservation NGOs must work closely with the authorities to give information, be the watch dog, and unsure enforcement is carry out properly in favor of the protected wildlife such as sun bears.
The sun bear is a forest dependent species. The amounts of forested lands remain in this country reflects the amount of habitat available for the sun bear. In Malaysia we have lost about 50% of our forested land. Much of these forests were prime sun bear habitat from the lowland dipterocarp forest. Therefore deforestation in this country has to be halt completely at any cost if we were to save sun bears and important wildlife species in Malaysia.
The future of sun bears in Malaysia and in the world is pretty challenging. There are two inherent reasons that make the future of the sun bear bleak if the current trend that threatens sun bear continues. First, the natural density of sun bears in the forest is always low in the first place. In Borneo the density of sun bear is relatively much lower than the endangered orangutans. Second, the reproductive rate of sun bear is very low. Female wild sun bears are estimated to produce 4-5 cubs in her life time. With the low density and low reproductive rate, additional killing of any sun bear individual in the wild may bring serious consequence to the population.
In Malaysia, about 50% of our forest covers remains after several decades of deforestation and human development. This also means that the sun bears have lost at least 50% of their habitat. However, compare to other Southeast Asian countries where sun bears are found, the deforestation and the poaching activities in Malaysia is relatively mild. Because of this reason, Malaysia is the last stronghold for the survival of sun bears in Southeast Asia. In Borneo, Sabah is the last stronghold for the Bornean sun bear also for the same reason.
EK: How does the Conservatory contribute to the conservation of the bears and how far ahead in terms of efforts does the centre have?
WST: As mentioned earlier, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre aims to conserve sun bears through improve animal welfare, raise conservation awareness through education, conducting research to know more about this little known bears, and help sun bear cubs returning into the forest through rehabilitation program. All of these activities contribute toward the conservation of sun bear and they all have to act side by side through a holistic approach, so to speak. So far we have rescued 27 sun bears from the fate from being locked up in small cages and improve their animal welfare issues through our animal husbandry and facilities. Although BSBCC has not yet open to the public and start our education program in full swing, we have worked with many school groups and outreach programs over the past three years. Right now as we speak the construction work for the observation platform and boardwalk that link the entrance to the platform is ongoing. We still lack the funding to construct the visitor briefing area. Once the construction for these two components is done we will open to the public and launch a full education program to educate the visitors on the plights of sun beats and their habitat. We hope the centre will be partially open to public by later this year and fully open early next year. Several research projects are on planning and will conducted later this year as well. All and all, we are not far to achieve what we plan to achieve for BSBCC.
EK: What is your advice to students who are in university studying environment or conservation? And especially if they want to take the path you took? What does it take to be you? What are some of the attitudes or philosophies one has to adopt in this field?
WST: This question can have a very long answer. For myself I have been through a non-typical path. For example I love animals pretty much all my life; I have many animal experiences since I was a kid; my ambition when I was 7 year old was to be an "animal expert"; I started bird watching before I know there was an activity call bird watching; I have two years of field and veterinary experience before I started my bachelor degree in Wildlife Biology. All of these shaped me of what I am today. However, other students should not be discouraged if they do not have the experiences I had. Everyone is unique and has their own back ground to do well in the field of conservation. My advice to students who are in university studying environment or conservation is that what they are studying is important to the entire humanity, entire world and all living organism on Earth. I know many of the students who study environmental study or conservation may have been "assign" to study the course or these courses are not their first choice.
However, if they start to develop the interest when studying the course they still can do well and contribute to this field. One characteristic that allconservations and environmentalists have is that they all have very strong interest and passion on this field, regardless of when they started to develop their interest or passions. For me I develop the interest and passion when I was very young. However, I met many great conservationists and wildlife biologists who developed their interest when they did their Master degree or even later in life. The important thing is to follow your heart. This field may not necessary bring you glamour or high financial rewards. However, it will make you contribute to the society, humanity and make your life "worth it" at the end. In this field, environmentalists and conservationists put the fate of environment or wildlife that they are fighting for before their own personal benefit and agenda. They do not expect a "reward" from what they are doing and sacrificing. What they want is to improve the situation and condition of the issues that they are working hard and fighting for- a better tomorrow for the environment, wildlife, and planet Earth.
EK: Why is it important doing what the centre does and what you do?
WST: Like mentioned earlier, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is working on the conservation issues of sun bears through improving animal welfare, education, research, and rehabilitation of sun bears. All of these conservation issues that the sun bears faced are very urgent, meaning someone has to help sun bears desperately to solve the problems such as pet sun bears, poaching issues, and habitat destruction issues. Unfortunately sun bears are a forgotten bear species. Very few organizations in the world aim to conserve sun bear and working on their conservation issues. In Malaysia, the plight of sun bears received very little conservation attention. In view of that, BSBCC develops unique tasks to help and conserve sun bears in many ways. The final mission is to save sun bear from extinction, preserve the rainforest habitat of sun bears and much other wildlife, and educate the public about the sun bear and wildlife conservation issues. Without BSBCC, captive sun bears will continue to suffer in captivity and wild sun bear population is likely to decrease to a point where there is too late to anything- brink of extinction.
Although BSBCC is focus on the conservation of sun bear and its habitat, I am not and I will not. It is true that my work has been focusing on sun bears for many years; however, my interest in conservation and research is not restricted to sun bears. My interest is very broad. It includes the conservation of all wildlife especially mammals and birds, tropical forest ecology, human disturbances in rainforest ecosystem, and climate change. I hope my work can inspire younger Malaysians to love and to conserve nature, environment, and wildlife.
As a local Penangite, I hope I can be a role model for other Malaysians to involve and supports conservation because conservation needs all of us working together to make a big difference for our wildlife, nature, and environment. Eventually conservation in our own country has to depend on our own countrymen, our own resources, and not foreigners and foreign resources.
EK: What are some of the special moments you had with the bears? Please describe it.
WST: There are a lot of special moments I had with wild sun bears which I studied and the captive sun bears at BSBCC. I will mention few of these special moments here:
a) The first time I saw one of my radio-collared wild sun bear on a tree was when he was feeding on wild figs in a fruiting fig tree about 45 m above the ground. Together with him on that tree was a female orangutan with baby, a female binturong with baby, a family of gibbons, many squirrels, and hundreds of birds. All of them were feeding and roosting on the same tree. It was a SPECTACULAR sighting which I will never forgot! That was also the first time that I learn the sun bears are very arboreal and good climbers.
b) The first time I caught an emaciated sun bear in August of 1999 was a special moment too. That was the first time I learned about the tough life of sun bears living in the wild. The famine episode where many bears and wild pigs died from starvation has change the perception of what and how we think about the tropical rainforest.
c) The first time I "walked" a sun bear cub in the forest was very special moment. In 2007 we filmed BEARTREK the movie in the rainforest of Danum. I took Cerah (an 8 month old female sun bear cub) into the forest for the first time for the filming. Cerah was an orphan cub rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department and her mother was probably being killed by poachers. I have no idea what her respond will be at that time when I let her out from her cage. Surprisingly she decided to "follow" me in the forest like a well trained dog, just like she would follow her own mother. Sun bear cubs are programmed to follow their mother for obvious reasons. They are totally dependent on their mother for food, safety, knowledge of finding food, and establishing territorial. It was really special to see her treated me like her own mother.
d) "Big tree, little bear and tiny termites" was a special moment when I walked Mary another female sun bear cub in the forest. It was a scène where Mary stopped at the base of a big dipterocarp tree and fed on termites in a decayed wood. The scene made me think of the inseparable relationships between big trees, sun bears, and termites in the forest ecosystem. All of them have evolved for millions of years in this forest ecosystem and in need of each other to survive. However, human activities in recent years have disrupted these unique relationships and jeopardize the integrity. Whether or not sun bears will make it to the next millennium will very much dependent on the human activities and how we treated our nature and the environment.
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