A talk on environmental conservation was held at the IOI UNICO-DESA Plantation Berhad, Kinabatangan on on the 27th April 2017. Representatives from the Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Wildlife Department, Royal Malaysia Police (Sukau branch) HUTAN-KOCP and BSBCC were among the speakers during the programme. The programme aims to support the IOI UNICO-DESA Plantation towards sustainable practices and being RSPO certified. More than 60 participants were involved which comprised of plantation managers, assistant managers, supervisors, and RSPO clerks. Dialog sessions and exhibitions were also carried our throughout the programme.
Text By Charina Pria
Photos By Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hailing from Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia, my name is Charina Pria, a 23-year old Sunway University undergraduate student who’s majoring in Biology and minoring in Psychology. I first heard of The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) when I first went on an expedition with Raleigh International to Sabah in 2014 and my volunteering experience brought me to Imbak Canyon, a pristine Class-1 Protected Rainforest in Sabah, where I’ve had the opportunity to learn about the amazing biodiversity that habituates many wildlife animals there, including Sun Bears! That is when I learnt about BSBCC where the rangers mentioned about the conservation efforts of sun bears in Sabah. Fast forward a couple of years later, when the time came to apply for an internship placement, BSBCC was obviously my first choice because I was excited and ready to learn about the biological aspects of sustainability, wildlife conservation and not forgetting, the sun bears! After applying and undergoing an interview with BSBCC, I was very grateful to be given a placement here!
3 months of my time here, I was exposed to many different things at the centre – namely the four pillars that the centre was founded upon, which are, (1) Education, (2) Rehabilitation, (3) Welfare and lastly, (4) Research. In each pillar, I had the opportunity to work, learn and be exposed with a diverse group of people who had impeccable knowledge and skills who were so helpful to pass on and to teach you everything they know about sun bears, the work they do and WHY they do it!
In the Education Unit, I worked alongside Gloria, Ina, Sharon, Bellinda, and Jeremy in their educational activities such as their School Outreach Programmes. I travelled to primary and secondary schools around Sandakan for a week and handled BSBCC’s education booth and helped raise awareness about sun bears, the conservation matters, the issues of sun bears and what BSBCC is currently doing to help these sun bears. It was definitely an enriching experience because I got to converse with a handful of school students, teachers and even school staffs on these matters, and not only get to spread what I’ve learnt from BSBCC, but I also get to listen to their point of view, their questions and participate in meaningful discussions.
After having gone for the outreach programme, I continued on helping in the Rehabilitation and Welfare Unit, or more affectionately known as the Bear Care Team. This was where most of my internship period was spent and where memories were made! I was placed under the buddy care of Mizuno who taught me the steps of working in the Bear House and guided me throughout everything in the centre – cage cleaning, kitchen duty (preparing all of the sun bear’s dietary requirement, etc), fence checks, enrichment building and not forgetting, his ever-enthusiasm in helping me to recognize and learn more about each sun bears in the centre with captivating stories.
Not only Mizuno, but I owe my experiences to the entire Bear Care team – Thye Lim, Lin May, Azzry, Yen Wah, Roger, Lester, David, Tommy and Andy and the volunteers and interns that I have met throughout my time here, whom I’ve fostered amazing friendships with.
Lastly, not forgetting Dr. Wong Siew Te, who has been an incredible and inspirational role model throughout my time here, who’d take time out from his busy schedule to have sessions with the volunteers, where you can ask him all sorts of questions ranging from sun bears, to conservation issues, about the centre, its history, challenges, future plans and so much more. I’ve met a lot of incredible people here at BSBCC (and bears!) in this short amount of time, who have taught me patience and more importantly how essential it is to have passion in the work you do, as passion is ultimately what will drive you to grow, to learn and to keep on thriving forward when things get bumpy. I am immensely grateful to BSBCC and Dr. Wong for all the guidance, the teachings, the laughter and not forgetting, the invaluable experience that has given me the clarity to be a part of a community that cares and works in the wildlife conservation field.
Terima Kasih untuk semua dan Jumpa Lagi!
Today April 27th, 2017 BSBCC received group visit from SK Segama. BSBCC’s education team brought in total 40 preschool students that came with their teachers and parents. After a short briefing about sun bear by one of the education team, the students and teachers then visited the observation platform to see the sun bears roaming in the forest enclosure. We believe that environmental education is vital and can help to further conserve the sun bears. We were glad that the students had a great time in our Centre and we hope that they learned more about sun bears and their environment.
More than 70 students from University Malaysia Sabah's Institute of Tropical Biology and Conservation visited the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and BSBCC to experience conservation works on the ground. The students were divided into several groups to learn the operations of both rehabilitation Centres. Yesterday each groups presented their experience working at both Centres for a day. It was a great learning opportunity for these future conservationists and hope to have more groups coming in future.
24th April 2017 - BSBCC welcomes a group visit from the students of SMK Sandakan, Sandakan. The students were given a a short briefing before they were brought to the observation platforms to see the sun bears. Most of the students from this group have not visited our Centre before. They were really excited to have a tour around our Centre to see sun bears. We were glad that the students are happy to learn more about sun bears and the environment. Through environmental education, we hope that the students will be more aware on the importance of protecting the environment and help us to spread the words. At BSBCC, we always welcome group visits to our Centre!
Today 22nd April 2017, we were visited by three groups from MRSM Sandakan, UMS (Conservation Biology Students) and Sk Rancangan Lubuh. The students were given presentation on the description of operations in BSBCC and information about sun bear. After a short briefing about sun bear and operation in BSBCC, the students and teachers then visited the observation platform to see the sun bears roaming in the forest enclosure. Awareness on the environment and wildlife is an issue which should be reasonably considered. Knowledge, skills and values as well as positive attitude towards the environment can be developed through environmental education.
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Time has flown! Kina recently just finished her quarantine care under BSBCC and is a one year old female juvenile bear. Previously, she was kept as a pet for more than a year before her owner decided to surrender her to Sabah Wildlife Department. Her owner claimed that Kina’s mother abandoned her when they were crossing a road and her mother got frightened and ran away while leaving her behind. During that time, she was just a bear cub and had not opened her eyes yet. She showed signs of malnutrition with her relatively small head compared to her body size. With an appropriate diet in BSBCC, she now weighs 18.4kg! Her favourite foods are papaya, honeydew, egg and of course milk! Though, even with her favourites, Kina is not picky and still enjoys all the food that we have given to her!
She has adapted well in quarantine since she arrived here at BSBCC and spends her time in her cage that is full of fire hose enrichment products such as fire hose hammock, wood hammock, and a heart-shaped honeycomb. Other than that, she also likes to play KONG, Aussie Dog Ball, and her favourite toy, the Bear Ball!! She totally is an enrichment lover. She loves to stay on the hanging platform where this allows her to stay up high and for her resting needs. The hanging platform is like her secret garden – It brings us much joy and happiness to see her bring her favourite food or toys up there to play with it.
In order to encourage her natural bear behaviour, keepers let her out to a larger den where there will be a larger space for her to explore around and get closer to the forest. Kina will step out from her cage with utmost curiosity and will explore the environment around her from every single corner like a good inspector. She enjoys staying in a natural environment like a den that is decorated with leaves and decayed wood. Most of the time, she explores the enrichment that has been prepared in the den. Kina’s day can be so simple where even a small decayed wood can simply make her day. She just knows how to enjoy the time with her own ways by lying on the dry leaves and turning on her relax mode.
Kina is a playful bear. The keepers will play fight with her so she can also learn some of the defence skills to protect herself later onwards. She shows her strength during the play fight that can be seen through pawing, which is a bear way of playing. However, some of the bear survival skills cannot be taught from a caretaker such as foraging, building a tree nest and so on. Hence, we plan to introduce her to a new bear friend who can teach her to become a real bear using the bear way. We one day hope that Kina will forage, build nests and stay in the wild because she truly deserves it, and deserves to be a real wild bear.
After the school outreach programme at Ranau District where the majestic Mount Kinabalu lies on, our team continue to go for outreach to Kota Belud District from the 9th of April to 13th of April 2017. This time, the outreach programme is organized by our partner HUTAN – KOCP and we were glad to participate in this programme. We visited 5 different schools near Kota Belud Town (SMK Taun Gusi II, SK Sembirai, SMK Pekan II Kota Belud, SK Pekan Kota Belud, SMK Arshad). This outreach programme were participated by Wildlife Rescue Unit, the Sabah Wildlife Department and BSBCC. Many interactive activities conducted and a few talks from each participating organisations were delivered during this programme. We were happy that the students enjoyed the programme and we hope that they learn more about the Mother Nature. Thanks to our partner HUTAN – KOCP for inviting us and we look forward to join more awareness programme in the future!
The Malay Online, 12th April 2017.
KOTA KINABALU, April 12 ― Veterinarians like Diana Ramirez live for the moment when they get to release an animal back into the wild.
The chief vet of Sabah’s Wildlife Rescue Unit has seen thousands of animals injured, distressed, lost or dying and nursed many back to recovery. She has also been bitten and charged at more times than she can count.
“But it is all worth it for the moment when you get to return to the wild ― where they belong. That is the moment that leaves you speechless in joy. Everything you work for is worth it,” she told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.
Unfortunately, this happy ending is not the case for many animals which she sees.
Of late, a number of wildlife coming through the Potuki Wildlife Holding Area and Rescue Centre ― orangutans, gibbons, slow lorises, bear cats, macaques and many species of birds ― are sadly, almost certainly going to spend the rest of their lives in captivity.
“These animals, particularly as a baby, can be irresistibly cute, and tug at the heartstrings so much that people end up rearing them,” said Ramirez.
A good example is Lilo. The affectionate gibbon with eyes you can melt in has become so dependent on humans after being kept as a pet most of her life that she will never survive if released back into the wild.
“Animals such as gibbons ‘imprint’ on their owners; similar to falling in love. They can get very aggressive towards people deemed a threat to this relationship. Also, once kept as a pet, it’s very unlikely they can ever be reintroduced back into the wild,” said Aaron Gekoski, a TV presenter who has worked with the Wildlife Rescue Unit as a volunteer for a web series Borneo Wildlife Warriors.
Gekoski fell in love with Lilo, the calmest out of some 17 gibbons that is being kept at the Potuki rescue centre to keep her safe, where she will likely remain.
The incident of protected animals being kept as pets is considerable. Although the number cannot be determined as it is often linked to illegal animal trade, it is likely within the hundreds in Sabah. Animals who have the “cute factor” like Lilo are particularly susceptible.
“People do not always mean to be cruel, but many are unaware or do not realise the harm it causes to keep a protected species,” said Benjamin Kotiu, a ranger of the Wildlife Rescue Unit.
He related past case in which a man who driving in Kota Marudu, a northern district in Sabah one night, came across a bear that dropped its cub on the road after being startled by the glare of his headlights.
“The man goes to see it and takes pity on the baby bear. He ends up bringing it home and rearing it. Last year, he finds out at a course or a forum that the sun bear is endangered and a protected species. He calls us up and surrenders the bear, saying he did not know it was illegal to do it.
“But by now, the bear is dependent on being fed. It will have to go through a lot of rehabilitation before it is able to fend for itself again in the wild,” Kotiu told Malay Mail Online.
Ramirez said that such encounters are high in Sabah because there are many people living near jungles and forests where wild animals roam.
Sometimes they chance upon them in the wild, but they can also be found sold at the tamu or Sabah’s open markets in the districts, and also sold discreetly in pet shops. In recent years, there has been a surge of cases of animals being traded through private social media groups.
“Social media is also a big factor, all those cute photos and other post of wild animals kept as pets, wildlife being actively promoted through private groups makes people think that is right and easy to keep them,” she said.
“People with good intentions sometimes buy them and hand it over to us. It’s good but sometimes we wish they would alert us so we can arrest the perpetrators instead. Otherwise, the supply will continue because they think there is demand,” said Ramirez.
“Other just like the idea of an exotic animal as a pet,” she said.
Globally, the illegal wildlife trade is a lucrative one. Reports estimate it at up to US$10 billion (RM44.3 billion) worldwide.
Ramirez noted that in Sabah, the number of orphans orangutans has thankfully reduced. In the 1960s, the number of orphans numbered between 40 and 50 a year. Today, the number is about two a year, she said.
Orangutans are a popular choice for pets as villagers often find orphaned babies whose mothers have been killed or lost in the massive deforestation practices in Borneo. Their big eyes, keen intellect and human-like antics make them seemingly good companions and this has driven up the demand for exotic pet enthusiasts.
Birds like eagles and owls are a majestic pet to own. The predatory birds were made to fly and hunt and living perched and walking in a cage destroys their natural instincts and abilities and also physically incapacitates them. The rescue centre houses a blind owl and an eagle with clipped wings.
Others like the slow loris, bear cats, leopard cats, and clouded leopard are also wanted for their beauty or uniqueness.
The rescued animals are either tended to at the Rescue Centre where they are treated or tended to. Others find a home in Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, which is open to the public.
Ensuring this does not happen is a tough job and few cases have ever been brought to court. State laws dictate that the punishment if convicted for possession of protected species, is a jail term of up to five years or a fine of up to RM50,000 or both.
“But it does not usually get that far because the cases are of the owners surrendering the animals. If we punish them, then no one will ever come forward,” said Kotiu.
As it happens, the rescue centre is busier than ever, with more members of the public surrendering their “pets”.
“There does appear to be more awareness. Social media plays a big part in this ― there’s the potential for stories to go viral very quickly and name and shame campaigns. There are also organisations doing fantastic work for conservation such as Danau Girang Field Centre, Green Semporna, HUTAN, BSBCC, Green Semporna, Scuba Junkie, Kudat Turtle Conservation Society and of course the Wildlife Rescue Unit,” said Gekoski.
“We hope, over time, this won’t be an issue, but this is a hard ask. I don’t think any wild animal should ever be held captive,” said Ramirez.