Text and photo by Siew Te Wong
Alex Lamb, a 17 year old teenage from Kota Kinabalu, organized a fundraiser event "Sun Bear Sunset Serenade and Supper" at Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa on Friday August 10th. The event is a private informal fundraising event to help raise money specifically for food for the sun bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. The evening included an international buffet dinner and a varied musical program, with performances by local musicians Asif Pishori, Rene Barrow, Amir Yusof, as well as Alex himself and his band. Cynthia Ong, the CEO of LEAP was invited to give an opening speech and I also was invited to give a talk on sun bears and its conservation issues.
The event was attended by about a hundred supporters of sun bear in the state capital Kota Kinabalu. A net total of RM11,070 was raised by the event from ticket sales and donations.
On behalf of BSBCC, I would like thank Alex for his inspiring hard work to organize the fundraiser. Special thanks also go to Alex's mom and dad, Anthea Phillipps and Tony Lamb, and buddy Nathan Wood to make this event successful and possible!
So, what can a 17 year old teenage do to help sun bears? The answer is A LOT!
Text by Gloria Ganang and photos by Tee Thye Lim
On the beautiful sunny morning of the 14th August 2012, the BSBCC team started the day with a preparation for a remarkable visit of the British High Commissioner to Malaysia, HE Simon Featherstone and his family. Also present during the visit was the Council’s guests, Shire President of Boyup Mr. Michael Giles and his family, the Australian Defence Adviser and Deputy Defence Adviser as well as the new Deputy Director, Office of Australian War Graves, Canberra. Their visit to Sepilok was their first time. The BSBCC team are so honored to welcome them!
They arrived at 2pm, just in time for the bears' 3rd feeding of the day in the forest enclosure. They were welcomed by the Officer in Charge of the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre (SOURC), Madam Sylvia Alsisto, together with the BSBCC team and a group of international volunteers.
Their visit to the BSBCC was led by our Project Manager, Wai Pak and also assisted by other BSBCC staff. Everyone had a close view of the sun bears foraging and socializing in the forest enclosure. The staff described about the urgent needs of sun bear conservation and talked about the unfortunate background of each of the sun bears they saw in the enclosure.
After the visit to the BSBCC, the VIP visitors proceeded their visit at the SOURC which they were welcomed by a group of orang utan hanging on bamboo stems at the SOURC entrance. This is followed by a tea session with the staff. The visit ended with a presentation of souvenir to the HE Mr. Simon Featherstone. Warm wishes from the BSBCC staff! We hope you enjoyed your visit at our centre!
Text and photos by Gloria Ganang and Tee Thye Lim
Bongkud, a sub adult sun bear at the BSBCC meets new neighbors 2 days ago (11th August 2012). The little sun bear was rescued from a village called Bongkud near to the district of Ranau, Sabah and came to the centre last June. She was isolated in a separate cage throughout her quarantine period. Now she gets to stay in a neighboring cage with Fulung a sub adult male and also two adult bears, Kudat and Panda.
The transfer process went on smoothly. However it took some while for Bongkud to step into her new cage even though she was keen to go towards the honey smeared in the cage area.
She finally stepped in. Instantly, she climbed around her cage the moment she noticed the space and unfamiliar furnitures of the cage. But what really caught her attention was her new neighbors. They were all curios and started getting closer and sniffing each other. This would be Bongkud’s first contact with other sun bears after a very long time.
Bongkud is getting used to her new cage now. She starts sleeping in the basket and plays around with the enrichmnents. She practices her climbing skills quite often although she started a little bit clumsy at the beginning. High hopes for this little bear to climb on real trees of the rainforest!
By Aneeta Sundararaj
Picture by Wong Siew Te
The sun bear is under threat. And that’s definitely not good news for the equilibrium of our rainforest, writes Aneeta Sundararaj
Cerah, soon to be a movie star
Om is a gentle giant
“They play such an important role in the ecosystem but we know so little about them” - Wong Siew Te
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KEEP in mind this advice when you first meet Wong Siew Te: first, don’t tell him you don’t know what a sun bear is. He’ll probably chastise you with, “we Malaysians don’t even know that we have one of the most important species of bears!”
Second, don’t try to lighten the mood with, “ ...they’re so cute.” If you do, brace yourself for an outpouring of the woes that plague this animal and, its impending extinction.
If your initial contact with Wong is fraught with tension, endure his angst because what follows is a beautiful story of one man’s passionate devotion to conserving sun bears.
Once calm, this 43-year-old father of two begins to describe the creatures in detail. “They can walk straight and carry their babies in the same way humans do. It’s like watching a human in bear skin.”
Sun bears are also very good tree climbers. Wong refers to them as “forest engineers”.
“They climb trees to get at the honey in the bee hives. They use their claws to create a cavity in the tree trunk. These cavities, once abandoned, are very useful to hornbills and squirrels that use them to create nests. The other animals cannot make this cavity. If the bears don’t do it for them, they’ll have nowhere to nest.”
A distinctive feature of the sun bear is its long tongue. “Sometimes, as long as 18 inches. They use the tongue to reach into cavities in trees to eat their favourite food, termites and ants.
“Sun bears love to lie on their back and pour the honey or termites on their chest and stomach. Their short hair will help them separate what’s edible from what’s inedible.” For this, Wong describes them as “doctors of the forest”.
“Sun bears eat termites. If they become extinct, we’ll probably lose all our trees to termites.”
“They play such an important role in the ecosystem and maintain the equilibrium in the forest, but we know so little about them. We don’t even know what their life span is. I guess that, in the wild, they’ll probably live between 10 to 12 years. In captivity, there’s one in Honolulu that’s 39 years old,” laments Wong.
It doesn’t help that sun bears have a slow reproduction rate and generally have only one cub each.
How did this interest in conserving sun bears come about?
Without pause, Wong narrates his journey to becoming a wildlife conservationist: “I’ve always loved animals. But, I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s and never heard of wildlife conservation. When I was a boy, I used to watch birds. I never knew there was such a thing called ‘bird-watching’. I always thought I would become a vet. I couldn’t get into the only university that offered this course, UPM. So I went to Taiwan to study animal husbandry and veterinary sciences.
There, I became an active member in the Bird Watching Society.
“Through my binoculars, I learnt to appreciate the beauty of nature. I also saw poaching of wildlife.
When Wong finished the programme, he became his professor’s research assistant. “Then, in 1994, at the age of 25, I started my undergraduate degree at the University of Montana. After a lecture, I went up to Dr Christopher Servheen and told him I was from Malaysia. He told me he was looking for someone to do research on sun bears. I agreed. And that is how I came to be here.”
Wong’s voice then takes on a sad tone. “The more I learnt about them, the more concerned I became. Bears in captivity are in a sad state. Zoos, mini zoos, crocodile farms, private menageries, and even private homes. These bears are kept in small cages and unhygienic conditions. Some of them just pace up and down. Seeing them like this breaks my heart.”
Spurred by their sad plight, Wong founded the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre that rehabilitates bears held in captivity so that they can be set free in the wild again. His rationale is simple: “I knew that if I didn’t do something about them, no one would.”
Scientific Name: Helarctos malayanus
English name: Malayan Sun Bear, Sun Bear
Native to: Sun bears are native to Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam
Threats: Loss of forest habitat and forest degradation arising from clear-cutting for plantation development, unsustainable logging practices, illegal logging and forest fires. Poachers kill sun bears for their gall bladders (used in traditional Chinese medicine) and paws (as a delicacy). Other motives for killing sun bears include preventing damage to crops, and fear of bears near villages. When this happens, orphaned cubs are captured and kept as pets.
In 2007, the World Conservation Union added the sun bear to its “vulnerable” classification on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2007). It is now illegal to kill or hunt these bears in Sabah.
It’s a bear’s life
AT the moment, there are around 25 sun bears under Wong’s care. You do not have to be an animal lover to understand, recognise and appreciate the mutual love between an animal and people highlighted in the five stories listed here.
Cerah is Wong’s favourite. She was confiscated by the Wildlife Department in 2007. Quiet and well behaved, Cerah is set to become a movie star as she is in BearTrek, a feature-length film about bears of the world. “This is going to be a proper movie in the cinema,” says Wong excitedly. The aim of this movie ‘is to focus on the world’s wild places through the eyes of the eight bear species of the world.’
One of the people involved in the movie project, Chris Morgan, visited Wong in Sabah. When Morgan writes, “Wildly entertaining relationships evolve between bear and handlers during training until the day when we witness the emotional release of the cub,’ he is referring to Cerah’s absolute excitement when she’s released into her forest home for the first time since being orphaned. You can watch this 10-minute video clip on www.wildlifemedia.org/borneo.html.
“Jelita is Cerah’s BFF,” says Wong. “They’re never more than 10 metres apart at any one time.” Wong thinks that being orphans, they act as each other’s protector and teacher. “They hang out and comfort each other.”
Natalie’s only 1½ years old. “When she first arrived, we almost lost her. She was dehydrated and we struggled to get the milk formula right. Then her condition stabilised and she responded really well. Natalie is a naughty little girl! When I used to walk her, she always wanted to play. But playing sun bear-style can be very rough and I had to tell her many times to stop biting my leg. She gets irritated with me. The thing is, even when they’re playing, we humans are not equipped to withstand their strong claws.”
“At 50kg, Om’s a big boy,” says Wong. Still, he’s a gentle giant who is painfully shy. Hold a coconut in your hand, though, and he’ll come out of hiding to take it from you. In 30 seconds, he will remove the husk. Then, he makes a hole in the shell, drinks the coconut water and eats the kernel. Do not assume that accepting the coconut is a sign that Om’s comfortable with you. He’ll finish his snack and retreat to his hiding place.
“Mary came to us extremely vulnerable. She was kept as a pet. Still, it’s amazing to see how she sits in front of the computer and watches TV. But, after some time, I realised she was abnormal — her head is bigger than her body. She’s a dwarf, almost.”
Slowly, though, she is being rehabilitated by Wong and his team.
IN 2008, Wong founded The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia. Admitting he could not do it alone, this is a joint project with the Sabah Wildlife Department, the Sabah Forestry Department and Land Empowerment Animals People.
Wong’s aim is two-fold: first, to provide for the care, rehabilitation and release of orphaned and captive sun bears back into the wild.
Second, he wants to address the lack of knowledge and awareness about the sun bear. He also aims to provide an improved long-term living environment for captive bears that cannot be released into the wild. This would increase the protection for sun bears and their habitat and to allow for on-going research. To know more about Wong’s work,
Text and photos by Ade Kurniawan
In the past few weeks, the BSBCC has been quite fortunate to receive two different groups of volunteers (Raleigh and Camp Borneo) to help with several construction projects in the centre (designed and supervised by Arkitrek interns, Adam Leigh-Brown and Maryam Gomary). Not an easy task as both groups had to complete their projects while battling Borneo’s sweltering heat and sudden torrential rains. Not to mention the occasional pig-tail macaque and orang-utan harassment!
Another group arrived on the 22nd July to continue the work done by the previous Alpha 4 group. To recap, the Raleigh volunteers have been focusing on the construction of several large enrichment structures which will be used in the future forest enclosure. Supervised by Adam and Raleigh project leaders, these volunteers spared no time and went straight to work!
In the past several weeks, Camp Borneo (part of Camps International, an organization focusing on volunteerism via expeditions) has sent two groups to help construct a compost bin for the BSBCC. With all the food waste (unused parts of fruits, vegetables, etc) produced in the BSBCC kitchen, it became quite clear that such waste could be put to good use. On top of that, they were also tasked to build a boardwalk that would lead to the future forest enclosure. These two projects were designed and led by Maryam.
Text by Gloria Ganang and photos by Thye Lim and Ade Kurniawan
Yesterday was another meaningful day at the BSBCC. We had an educatonal visit from a group of teens from the Anglo Chinese School Independent (ACSI), Singapore. They consist of 23 students of the age 17-18 years old, accompanied by 2 teachers. The visit was organized by the Animal Project & Environmental Education (APE) Malaysia to give the students an experience about animal conservation. The teens get to involve in hands on activities of the sun bear rehabilitation process which consists of doing pre enrichment and post enrichment behavioral observation on the sun bears at the centre.
They also get the chance to do enrichment for the bears in between their observation sessions. The enrichment materials were provided and the students created the enrichment using their imagination of what would be is suitable for sun bears. This is to build awareness among students about the importance of stimulating animal natural behavior through enrichment.
Before they left the centre, our Project Manager, Wai Pak explained to the students about the bears reaction towards the enrichments they made. They were also told about the bears in the centre going through rehabilitation process and the threats of sun bears as well.
Lastly, we would like to express our many thanks to the APE Malaysia team for organizing such beneficial activity for the centre especially in terms of education. Thanks to the ACSI students as well for spending time with us learning about sun bear rehabilitation!
Best wishes from BSBCC team!