Listen to Wong talk about sun bear on "The WildLife" Radio Show by Dr. Laurel Neme
The WildLife: Sun Bears, Siew Te Wong
Written by Laurel Neme
Monday, 17 May 2010 12:18
Siew Te Wong, a Malaysian wildlife biologist and sun bear expert, divulges some interesting characteristics of this rare Southeast Asian bear and how they fit into the ecosystem. He tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme how he became one of the first to study sun bears, which are the smallest of the bear species and also the least known. Did you know that sun bears consider beetle larvae one of their tastiest treats? When they eat them, the animals close their eyes and savor the experience, similar to humans relishing the yummiest of chocolates. Siew Te Wong also talks about his adventures researching the species, threats to these rare bears, his rescue efforts, and what people can do to help. For the last 13 years, Wong has been studying and working on the ecological conservation of the sun bear. He is one of the few Malaysian wildlife biologists trained in a western country. He did both his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science at the University of Montana in Missoula, and is continuing for his doctorate degree there. His pioneering studies of sun bear ecology in the Borneo rainforest revealed the elusive life history of the sun bear in the dense jungle. Wong’s research has taken him to the most threatened wildlife habitat on Earth, where field work is exceedingly difficult. While rapid habitat destruction from unsustainable logging practices, the conversion of the sun bear’s habitat into palm oil plantations and uncontrolled poaching activities paint a bleak picture for the future of the sun bear, Wong is determined to help the present situation of sun bears in Southeast Asia. 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. Wong is also the former co-chair of the Sun Bear Expert Team, under the IUCN/Species Survival Commission’s Bear Specialist Group and a current member of three IUCN/SSC Specialist Groups.
This episode of “The WildLife” aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on May 17, 2010.Please visit
"Durian" is an unfamiliar word in western world. However, durian is well known by both human and wildlife in Southeast Asia. The name Durian derives from the Malay word "duri" meaning "thorn" together with a suffix-an (for building a noun in Malay), is the king of fruits in this tropical region. Almost all frugivores, omnivores, and even some strict carnivores such as tigers, LOVE durian! Only a small portion of Southeast Asians dislike durian, others, like myself, really like durian!
What make Durain well recognize as the king of fruit is the creamy flesh emits a strong and distinctive odor that make durian lovers regard this pungent smell as fragrant, others find this aroma overpowering and offensive. For all wildlife including sun bears, are big time durian lovers!
The Durian is the fruit of several tree species from the genus Durio, Family Bombacaceae. In the wild, different species of durians have different colors such as deep pink, yellow, and white. Although armed with sharp and pointy thorns, ripe durians split off at the end of the fruits to ease fruit eaters consume their flesh and help disperse their seeds, which is a crucial process for the survival of the tree species.
Sun bears are important seed dispersers for durian trees in the forest. They sometime ingest the seeds while eating the flesh of durian. The seeds then pass through their gastrointestinal system and expel out when the bears defecate. Hence, the bears carry their seeds far away from the mother trees that will eventually enhance the survival of the durian seedlings.
These are some video footages of some of the rescued sun bears at BSBCC feeding on durian in our old bear house..
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Photos by Charlie Hoare
When you think of it in details, it is not difficult to find out these bears actually have very sad life being pets for some human to start with. They were locked in small cages for all their life to amuse their owners . They were locked behind bars, and confined in small cages; they could either walk on concrete floor or iron bars; they never see the sky on top of their head, and never do what they design and born to do like other wild bears. Trees, soil, sky, sun, rain, and everything in the forest, to these bears, are something that have been stolen in their life from poachers and hunters .
All of our rescued bears have this kind of unfortunate life until we rescued them and moved them to our new bear house and forest enclosures. Even though they have access to roam the forest enclosure, years of confinement in cages made them feel like the bear house is actually safer then the outside world. They need to be taught that they are actually belong to the forest and the forest is their home.
Suria is one of our rescued subadult female bear. On April 23, we let them out to the forest enclosure for the first time. Wai Pak, our project manager, a.k.a, uncle bear, was site by site with Suria to gave her all the courage she needed to venture out to her new forest enclosure that we all work so hard to give them.
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This morning, I was interviewed by Dr Laurel Neme through skype for her radio show on Vermont's Community Radio Station (stay tune, to be broadcasted on May 17). At the end of the interview she asked me what can the public do to help sun bear? "Do what you do best to help sun bears," I replied. She thought this statement was very empower to inspire others to help this little bear.
Over the past year, there were many good stories and examples of people who were helping sun bear and BSBCC by doing "what they do best to help sun bears". We have artists who produced paintings and art works of sun bears and celebrities performed in gala dinner to help us raised fund; we have fashion designers helping us to produce the first sun bear tote bags for raising awareness and fund; we have film makers to help us produced videos to promote our works and conservation awareness of sun bear, and photographers to help us took photos, etc,. The list go on and on.
Today, I am proud to introduce Paul Clenton, an English teacher who teaches in Taiwan's Sense Language Centre. Paul's story is another good example of "do what you do best to help sun bear". He gave a presentation on sun bears and their plights to his class on Earth Day, conducted a "skateathon" to raise fund, and most importantly, as a teacher, he tough his student to LEARN more about sun bears. Here is a the story in his own words:
Well, I did a quick poster and sponsorship form. Regardless of how the parents respond, it looks like I'm in for a bit of exercise on Saturday (45km of exercise, hehe).
I did a presentation today and showed some of your video clips. In all I spoke to about 35 kids of primary school age. The response was interesting: 1 was moved to tears, many took it quite seriously and most were very interested. 1 boy guiltily confessed to having eaten bear paw soup once too, something I found quite surprising for a Taipei kid.
Anyway, I took the session to be a success; even if they just went home and told their families about what they saw, today's message of the need to protect and conserve sun bears and their habitat will have reached at least 100 people in some form or other.
I'll email you after the weekend and let you know how I got on. "
"I did a "Sun Bear Skateathon" for my students recently, following some lessons on the sun bears and also as a way of getting the kids involved in an activity for Earth Day. Despite a few difficulties (my board broke not far from the start, it was wet, I was attacked by dogs 4 times and came off twice on bad surfaces) I raised 3900 Taiwan Dollars. Some parents I never would have thought would care surprised me with their kind donations, though what I found most moving was a 6 year old girl called Dora who made a contribution from her own piggy bank because she said she wanted to help the bears. Little things like that give me hope."
" Hello there,
I think it is a very good idea to hand the funds over in person this August, and I am sure that this could help me get a little more too. :) I think that it would be great for a couple of my "little representatives" to help raise awareness. By the way, Dora actually "slaughtered" her piggy bank to save the bears. Quite unexpected and moving."
Thanks Paul and all the students in Paul's class. You did good, you did great! I thank you all!
So, ladies and gentlemen, please do what you do best to help sun bears!
Epilogue: Sun Bears in Taiwan
In fact, there were many caged sun bears in Taiwan that people keep as pets in the past. All of these pet sun bears were believed to come from Borneo, together with pet orangutans and gibbons that swamped the pet trade market in late 80's and early 90's when I was staying in Taiwan. Today, keeping endangered species is completely prohibited by the Taiwanese authority, but many animals, victimized by the pet trade, remained behind bars in wildlife rescue centre. Many of the pet sun bears were slaughtered once they grown big and became dangerous to keep as pets.....
The beneficiary of BSBCC cause has changed from Wildlife Direct to Land Empowerment Animal People Land (LEAP)
Dear friends of the sun bears,
I am pleased to announce that the beneficiary of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Cause <http://www.causes.com/causes/95651> has changed from Wildlife Direct to Land Empowerment Animal People (LEAP), an NGO that is based in both Sabah and US. With this change, LEAP will help BSBCC collect all the donations from this cause. LEAP is the "mother" of BSBCC who gave birth to this project to help save sun bears in Borneo. Over the past few years, the LEAP team in both Sabah and USA have been working around to clock to help us secure funding, facilitate fund raising efforts, and running the project on the ground. I would like to take this opportunity to thank both Wildlife Direct and LEAP for their help to bring a better future for sun bears.
Today I am surprised and happy to see the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre facebook causes has successfully recruited 3,350 members. This number means a lot to us because the sun bear, being the least known bear and a forgotten bear species, has at least three thousand people across the world aware of their plight and our work to help sun bears from suffering and disappearing from the wild.
Thanks to all of you, we have come this far. Please continue helping us to spread the word about sun bears and our work. By simply repost our bulletins and blogs on your facebook or other networking tools, you are helping sun bears by raising the conservation awareness and the plight of this little cute but unknown bear species. Even better, actively ask your friends to join this cause so that they become a member of the sun bear family too! Additionally, you can help us raise funds to help the sun bear from your birthday wishes!
I know all of you love sun bears. I am sure that the sun bears love you too. With the completion of Phase 1 of the project last month, we are leaping a big step forward to help sun bears. Your support is always needed to help us bring a better future for the sun bears.
Besides this facebook cause<http://www.causes.com/causes/95651> , we also have a twitter page for BSBCC at http://twitter.com/BSBCC_SunBear.
Please feel free to tweet us!
Big sun bear hugs,