Video by Chiew Lin May
"Time is running out! The next ten years will be crucial. If we fail, a lot of species will become extinct." - Dr. Wong Siew Te (Founder & CEO BSBCC)
The sun bears is the world's smallest bear species. They can be found in the tropical rainforest of Southeast Asia. Major threats from poaching, illegal pet trade and deforestation are pushing sun bears to extinction. If no action is taken, the remaining population will be wiped out soon.
Please keep the fight to save the species against the threat of extinction!
Video by Chiew Lin May
What was the highlight of your weekend?
"I think mine was foraging the bird's nest fern!" - Little Romolina
Text by Ummu ‘Atiyyah Mohamed Talhah
Photos by Ummu ‘Atiyyah Mohamed Talhah & Chiew Lin May
My name is Ummu ‘Atiyyah, a Zoology student from Universiti Sains Malaysia and I was an intern at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for 8 weeks.
Around 3 years ago, I didn’t even know bears existed in Malaysia. That’s something a Zoology student should be ashamed of. One day I saw a picture of my lecturer at a Bear Conservation Centre, so I searched the name of the centre online and to my surprise it was in Malaysia.
A few years later, I find myself applying for a role as an intern at the centre. A few months later, I’m already in gumboots and holding a bucket of fruits.
I love working in the kitchen. Whenever I have to go through the bananas, I will always think of the song from The Jungle Book, the Bear Necessities. Nevertheless, I love going out to feed the bears in the enclosure. Seeing them out in the forest, closest to their natural habitat really made me happy, especially when I get to see them napping high up on the trees, digging, and playing.
The first half of the day is usually planned routine work and after lunch we usually get to relax a little by making enrichments.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in an advertisement promoting Malaysia. Orangutans minding their own business just only 1 metre from me, hornbills flying to a nearby tree right in front of me, as well as their unforgettable sound, almost like the sound of a duck. Not just that, countless number of unknown beautiful birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, the cute pygmy elephants, pygmy squirrels and even giant squirrels! All these sightings really make me appreciate our flora and fauna especially.
Not just the animals, I have not yet met any rude Sabahan’s during my 8 weeks stay. I admit that I am among those who call themselves slow learners. Even so, the staff, especially the bear keepers have always been motivating and patient with me. Being the only Muslim in the house, I am so relieved and grateful that they can try to understand and respect my beliefs and my “pantang larang”.
There are days where Dr Wong would have discussion sessions with the interns and volunteers. We would talk about almost everything from the bears to conservation and environmental issues, Malaysia’s forest and palm oil issues and a lot more. One time, he showed us a quote from Jane Goodall which goes like this, “Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help, we shall be saved.”
Some days we were assigned to go for outreach programs at schools, and some days we were assigned to go on the platform to talk to the visitors. Although I haven’t been the very best at talking with strangers, I really enjoyed talking to people especially those who were interested to know more.
Believe it or not, during my 8 (short) weeks of interning, I got to differentiate the bears based on how they look, and even based on their behaviours!
After a few weeks at the centre, I start to think more and more about the bears especially the ones that cant be released outside to the enclosure due to reasons that cannot be avoided. I tried to think of how I can help to minimize their stress and improvise the environment that they are currently in.
Finally, six days prior to ending my internship, I managed to provide a humble dry cage for Amaco, the oldest bear who is sadly never going to see the forest again. Brandon and I gathered dried leaves, grasses and twigs and placed them on the cage floor. For me, a dry cage is more like a fake forest, where the bears can get comfortable. Amaco and Panda (his companion) were curious enough to sniff around like cats. I wish I could’ve done more for Amaco and the others but I really hope the dry cage helped Amaco and Panda in any small way it can.
Two days before I left, a windstorm and a short but heavy rain hit the centre at around 4:30pm. We waited for the bears to come back to the bear house, fearing that there might be fallen trees, which might cause bears to escape. In the end, there was only one bear, Wawa who hadn’t returned. Everyone including the people from Wildlife Rescue Unit and other organizations came to help. David (a staff) accompanied me and another three interns in the bear house. After all of their hard work out in the dark and in the rain, Wawa finally came back. I admired all of the staff’s heroism, something I never thought I’d be able to witness. Days that usually end at 5:00pm ended at 7:00pm that day. Only after all that did we know that some of the pens in the enclosure as well as the platform for visitors were destroyed. Looking at the pictures really broke our hearts.
“Who is your favourite bear?” I always get asked this question. I usually just pick names just to give an answer because I don’t think I actually have favorites and not because of the cliché “I love them all”, but because I have weak spots for some of them. Week after week, my list of “favourites” just keeps on getting longer and longer.
Some are fierce and some are gentle. However they are, I still love them all even though they couldn’t care less about me.
When I try to look back on the first day that I arrived here, with me being awkward with everyone, it feels like a lifetime ago. However my 8 weeks internship feels so short! The bears now have a special place in my heart, and strangers became friends. How things changed since I arrived. Even though the work was tiring, hot and sweaty, I always find myself missing the days where feeding the bears was a routine for me.
To all the bear keepers and staffs at BSBCC, I thank you all so much for making this experience something so fruitful for me. Though I smell like cow dung every evening, I sincerely loved the work at BSBCC. I apologize if I have been too slow or if I asked too many questions (I know I do). I hope you will all continue fighting for our bears and for Malaysia’s forests.
Text and Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Logan is the youngest male cub (estimated eight months old) that we have here at BSBCC. He was found, abandoned near Lokan River, Kulu-Kulu Village in Sabah. He was surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC on the 19th of May, 2018. Once Logan was found, it was evident he was missing his left thumb which left his front paw disformed.
On the 7th of June, 2018 Logan first ventured out into the forest. He is so excited and alert with the surroundings. He is following behind his caretaker and explores around the forest slowly. Our caretakers have brought him out to the forest for just over two months now and he is becoming more at ease with the forest. Logan is no longer following behind but leading the caretaker where they should go that day. If he starts heading back when caretaker is not following his pace, Logan will even try get the caretaker’s attention to take him somewhere else.
A wild animal will always have their wild instinct. Logan has performed well in the forest day by day through his growth in climbing, digging and foraging skills. He has proved his foraging skills through finding many different types of invertebrates, just in one day, including ants and termites! Ants and termites are the most important protein source for sun bears in the forest. He is an expert at finding the termite nests mound; Logan will start by destroying the termite mound, digging into the nest and then consuming as many as possible. Logan is playing his part by being a forest doctor and maintaining the termites and wildlife, keeping the trees safe healthy.
Logan is a great climber. He can climb up to 4 to 5 metres. He is an explorer. He will try out every possible tree branch in order to climb a tree and practice holding his balance, even though he does fail often. It is said that, “Practice makes perfect”, which we can see Logan continuing to do, in order to perfect his climbing skills. Logan is a playful and naughty bear. He loves to climb up to the top of a small tree, so that he can bend the tree down to reach the forest floor. The tree is not the only thing that he loves to climb, with his favourite thing to climb being the lianas.
Logan seems to enjoy being in the water. He knows how to easily find the water and loves to soak his body with the water. Before he goes into the water, he will check and take a look at the water level at the stream side. He will not enter the water when it is too high, as sometimes it is even taller than him! Nonetheless, he attempt to search in another site that will have water ponds or a river for him to enjoy. Soaking his body in water is a must for Logan, for every time he is in the forest. On days that it rains, Logan will become hyperactive with pure enjoyment; water is a simple pleasure that could make a bear happier in the forest.
Many people will ask what a sun bear will do when encountering another animal: Logan has encountered with the macaques before and immediately became alert as well as slightly insecure. He ran to the surrogate mother, which is a natural for a bear cub wanting to get protection from the mother bear. He stayed close to the caretaker and checked the surroundings as he remained close to his surrogate Mother. He gave a warning bark to the macaques when the individuals would come close, as he felt threatened and will try to retreat from them again.
Logan is thriving daily, with his improvement becoming more and more evident. He is more confident in the forest, which is key for the rest of Logan’s journey here at BSBCC. We hope this is the start of the road to Logan’s freedom and eventual reintroduction back into the forest. This is the biggest hope for a bear, to be reintroduced back to their real home where he belongs.
Text by Woo Chee Yoong
Photos by Woo Chee Yoong and Tee Thye Lim
The Island of Borneo is famous as the largest island in Asia and third largest island in the world. A vast and astonishing green area, covered with mysterious tropical rainforest, and so many amazing creatures that have not yet been discovered. Inside the island lies a very important habitat for the wildlife of Sabah. The Tabin Wildlife Reserve was once home to the Sumatran Rhinoceros, but sadly, the Sumatran Rhinoceros was declared extinct in the wild in Sabah, leaving the only two in captivity with Borneo Rhino Alliance, BORA, at Tabin.
During my internship period, I was given the chance to assist Tee Thye Lim, the BSBCC’s Operation Executive, who is currently conducting his Master’s research in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, with sun bears as his focus. His team assisted with his final sampling in the core area of the Tabin Wildlife Reserve for one month. First of all, I am very thankful for this opportunity given by Dr(Hon) Wong Siew Te, the founder of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), as well as Thye Lim. Besides myself, the other team members were Jeniur, Mizuno and Logan, who made the team complete, fit and tough. Each of them has their own strengths, and combined performed excellent teamwork. Hence, the sampling was smoothly completed. I feel thankful for the presence of these three warriors because they took good care of me as I was inexperienced living in a forest environment, and they always unselfishly taught and guided me with their own survival skills.
The methods we used for studying the sun bears at Tabin Wildlife Reserve were baited camera trapping and hair trapping. At each camera station, two trees were chosen as the targets and wrapped with duct tape to get the sun bear hair samples, and one of the trees was tied with bait made of shrimp paste and salted fish. The bait was wrapped inside a black net, and was hung above the tree within view of camera, in order to lure the sun bear to climb so its hairs would stick on the tape. Each camera was set up with photo and video mode. We stayed in the forest for two weeks in order to change the bait after one week.
Each day living in the forest posed a challenge for us, especially when the climate was not on our side. During the first two weeks, rainy days caused panic among us when the river water almost flooded to our camp site. Even huge trees were flushed away, known as “Water Head”. Then, in the next two weeks, we were hit by huge winds, known as “Wind Head”, and we could hear the sound of large trees falling to the ground. Even the calls of elephant or fresh footprints served to make us more alert to our surroundings.
However, it was not all hard work. We shared funny moment’s everyday which cheered us up and helped us forget our tiredness. We designed our own camp with comfortable hand-made furniture, and built tables, chairs and a kitchen area to induce more homely feeling. We bathed together in the super cold river (with underwear on of course), and watched movies in the forest using a phone and a speaker. We also played a poker card game called Bridge, where the losers were punished by washing the dishes, lighting the candles and making tea and coffee. The fried rice cooked by Mizuno was better than most of the dishes served by restaurant in the city. We did some crazy stuff, which will always be kept a secret by our team.
The best part of the experience was being able to witness the wildlife freely roaming in the forest. We heard the calls of gibbons and helmeted hornbills in the morning, and saw great argus’s right in front of us. Spotted hornbills flew round us, and bearded pigs, mouse deer, muntjac and sambar deer ran past us. A Malay civet even broke into our kitchen area! Lastly, we found sun bear claw marks and heard the loud barks of a sun bear when Jeniur and I were on our way to service a camera. Frightened and shocked were my reactions at the time, because the barks clearly showed that our presence was unwelcome. But it was a wonderful experience that I will always remember.
The forest is the sun bear’s home. We arrived uninvited, which is something that none of us in this world would like. Loggers and poachers are becoming more daring, and are exploiting every piece of this green land and the wildlife living inside it without mercy. More attention and funding are given to captive animals for education and research purposes, but wild animals need to be given the same attention and protection. I hope the public from all over the world will give more support to conservationists, like us at the BSBCC and other organisations which work to protect important species, such as Sun Bear. Preserving their main habitats is important to assure future of these species so they can continue to survive.
On the 24th and 25th of October 2017, BSBCC joined a conference exhibition on the International Conference on Heart of Borneo (HoB) that was held at the Magellan Sutera Harbour Resort, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. This two-day event organized by the Sabah Forestry Department, themed 'A Decade of HoB Initiative: Accomplishments and the Way Forward, marked the 10th year of HoB's initiatives. The event was officiated by Sabah Chief Minister Y.A.B. Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima Musa Haji Aman. Hundreds of participants from various organizations, sectors and higher institutions: locally and international participated in this programme. The objectives of this conference are to share the current achievements of the HoB Initiative throughout a decade of its implementation, to re-assess major activities which are critical to the HoB and the responsibilities of stakeholders by key sectors; and to streamline and coordinate actions towards realising the HoB Initiative.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Since being rescued from a village in Sikalabaan, Sabah on February 9th 2017, Sika, a five month old, female sun bear cub, has completed her time in quarantine.
She has shown tremendous growth in the last month. She is an active, healthy and beautiful female bear cub. She now weighs 7.25kg.
The next rehabilitation phase for Sika is taking her out for walks in the forest. The problem with Sika is that she is still nervous to step out from her dens and the bonding between her surrogate mother is still weak. She was caged alone as a pet in a chicken mesh cage after losing her mother. All little Sika knew was pain and fear. She has needed to gain back confidence and trust towards her new surroundings.
To prepare her in gaining back strength, confidence and trust, we have moved Sika into a larger exercise den with an environment which is as close as possible to life in the wild. This exercise dens is full of natural habitat enrichment such as dead wood, green leaves, leafy browse, climbing structures, a platform, and treats to stimulate and prepare her for life back in the wild.
We gave Sika the opportunity to venture out for the very first time. Once Sika was brought to the larger exercise den, she was easily stressed by noise and paced with alert at the new larger exercise den. She kept vocalizing and was uncomfortable with it. We tried to comfort and help her adapt to the new environment by showing her new enrichment toys. Sika needed plenty of time.
Thankfully, she did it! She calmed down and adapted to it. She decided it was time to explore the whole exercise den. Sun bear cubs require a lot of exercise to practice their physical skills and grow stronger! Her courage has grown with each day and she has started exploring.
She will gaze up at the nearby forest surrounding her exercise dens.
She always goes straight to the big log and pulls off its branches. After one week, we are pleased with her progress in finding the strength to venture without any hesitation.
Sika is learning to trust her surrogate mother without fear. She will be growing and learning under the guidance of her surrogate mother.
She loves rolling and wrestling, and she is just so happy. Sika has excellent climbing skills. She uses her small curved claws to create a cavity in the climbing log to get the ants. Sometimes she will climb high to get a better look and avoid strange sounds! We envy her tree-climbing skills!!
She is learning and experiencing that life as a wild bear can be great. She knows her tragic past is now behind her and is discovering her natural behavior. She has proven herself to be a sweet natured sun bear! We hope the next move will be taking little Sika on walks in the forest to let her experience the true Bornean environment.
Text by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Photos by Tee Thye Lim & Chiew Lin May
One day in May 2008, a one year old female sun bear cub came from Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo named Lawa to Sepilok. She had a beautiful face which would catch your eye. But, how does such a gorgeous bear end up at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre? Normally, cubs stay with their mothers until they are two to three years old. However, in Lawa's case, she was separated cruelly by killing the mother in order to get a cute sun bear cub, kept illegal as pet or sold on the illegal wildlife pet trade. Sun bear populations are estimated to have declined over 30% in the last three decades, leading for those bears being in danger of imminent extinction in the wild very real. Now, sun bears have been stated as totally protected species under Sabah Wildlife Enactment in 1997. People who keep them illegally and hunting them, will be fined up to RM50,000 and can be send to jail for 5 years, or both.
Lawa lost her mother when she was still a cub. She had no chance to learn the natural survival skills from her mother. The BSBCC provided her with a second chance, reintroducing her to natural forest enclosures. Lawa has grown into a smart, agile and independent bear. She is now nine years old, weighs 40.5kg. She has spend most of her days eagerly exploring up in the trees. She can make beautiful tree nests by using liana and tree branches. Nest building is one of the important but rare survival skills of a wild bear. After six years going through rehabilitation at the BSBCC there is now a happy ending for Lawa as she has acquired many vital survival skills and she is ready to return to her real forest home.
Release candidates are chosen based on their age and survival skills. They have to be fit in four conditions, they need to know how to forage, climb, nest building and lastly, the most important condition is they need to not attach to human and know how to avoid humans, in order to be at low risk of being killed by poachers or turn into a nuisance bear.
On 24th July 2016, the BSBCC is preparing the final stage for the release of Lawa to a core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Located in the Lahad Datu, Sabah encompasses 120500 hectares of pristine rainforest. Before the big day, the bear team again needed to find Lawa in Pen G at 4 pm. Dr. Rosa Sipangkui, a veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department, sedated Lawa. Once sedated, Lawa was moved from Pen G to bear house in order to undergo a full medical examination to ensure she is in good health before her release. Besides that, Wong Siew Te, BSBCC Founder and CEO made sure that Lawa’s satellite collar is functioning and well fitted on her. Finally, Lawa was moved into the translocation cage. She was then placed at the bear house area for a night. Our bear care keepers spent the night monitoring Lawa. She might not have known it, but after today her life will be totally different!
It is time to go! On 25th July 2016, when it was still dark, the bear release team was getting ready to depart from Sandakan to Tabin Wildlife Reserves on two trucks, taking Lawa to her second chance in the wild. The release team started in full force for the release of second sun bear back into the wild.
The team arrived at Tabin Wildlife Reserve Headquarter at 8.15 am. The morning sun and clear sky reminded us to start moving.
This year our release team will be using helicopter model Sabah Air Aviation Sdn Bhd (Bell 206 B3) Jetranger Underslung to reach our final destination.
We made the final release preparation and inspections to ensure the safety. The operation was split into two difference trips. The first trips, the team entered the mud volcano of Tabin forest to evaluate and identify the suitable release site.
They checked the wrapping net thoroughly. After final checks on Lawa by Dr. Rosa and Wong Siew Te, the team took the transportation cage and loaded it into the wrapping net. The process went smooth.
At 10.15 am, Wong Siew Te (BSBCC CEO & Founder) and Lawa was finally lifted up into the blue sky, heading to Tabin mud volcano. At 10.35 am, Bell 206 Jetranger that carrying Lawa landed safely on the Tabin mud volcano.
The arrival of Lawa was greeted by the sound of birds in Tabin Widlife Reserve. The sights, sounds and smells of Tabin Wildlife Reserve will be very new for Lawa. Immediately Lawa was taken to the release side by BSBCC team. Lawa looked well rested, happy and ready. She realized there were so many higher trees in pristine rainforest around her. She will soon free and ready to live a new life as a true wild sun bear!
After everything was set up, the moment to open the door and let Lawa take a deep breath with the sense of freedom arrived. Once the translocation cage was opened at 11.10 am , Lawa run out of the cage quickly. She was very fast, directly heading into the deep forest! We hope the best for her now! She will be starting to explore, forage and adjust to her new habitat. It was an emotional moment for all of us watching her walk away from the transportation cage and – off course - us. One moment we could still see her and at the blink of an eye, she disappeared into the tall trees. She finally home, in the forest. Enjoy your freedom Lawa! May you have a long and happy life there! Our bear care team will carefully monitor her progress via her satellite collar.
Sun bears are forest animals. They are playing important roles in the forest. They are forest gardeners. After they consume fruits, they travel along and disperse the seeds in the forest. They carry the seeds away from the mother tree, so that the seed has a higher survival rate. Next, they are forest engineers. Sun bears are excellent climber. One of the reasons that they climb up a tree is because they want to harvest the honey from bee hives. They will use their strong canine and sharp claws to tear off the tree trunk and get the honey inside. After that, it will create a cavity that provides a resting place to other animals like hornbills and flying squirrel. Besides that, they also are forest doctors. Termites are small insects which eventually cause a tree to get sick or die. This is because some termite species will build their nest inside the trees. But, sun bears eat termites. So, sun bears can help to control the population of termites and keep the forest healthy. Last but not least, they are forest farmers, because they are good diggers. They do a lot of digging which can actually help to mix up poor soil and rich soil to enhance the nutrient cycle in the forest. And, that is why we call them “the keystone species”. Lawa is now been released in the forest. She is carrying out a very important task. This is what she needs, the forest and the freedom.
We would like to take this opportunity to say a huge Thank Yous to the most amazing partner, the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr.Rosa Sipangkui, the Sabah Forestry Department, LEAP, the Tabin Rangers, the BSBCC team, our volunteers and Brad Josephs who help fundraise and Kynite Filming Crews who helped and supported us generously with Lawa’s release. Thanks to the years of hard work spent rehabilitating Lawa, she will have the opportunity to roam free in the wild, back where she belongs. Reintroduction programs for sun bears are very costly. We need your support to protect this magnificent species from extinction. Help us release more sun bear back to wild by donating at www.bsbcc.org.my. You can make a difference in the future survival of sun bears!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Kala is a one year old, female bear. She is at BSBCC because her previous owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit with the intention to save her after they found her on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Meliau Basin. Kala got to walk in the forest with a bear keeper when she was still a cub. However, it had been a while since Kala had experienced the forest. Walking a cub is not an easy task. The task becomes harder while the cub is growing up because they can be very hard to control. Now, Kala is growing well. Hence, there is no more need for her to walk with a bear keeper. But this does not mean that she will not go back into the forest anymore.
Fence training is a very important step before the bears can go out to the forest enclosure. This is because the forest enclosure is surrounded with high voltage hot wire. The hot wire is to prevent the bears escaping from the forest enclosure.
In the beginning, we made a food trail for Kala and encouraged her out to the training pen. The training pen was a strange place for her and hence why we prepared lots of food and her favourite, honey, to encourage her. She was doing well. After that we scattered food near the fence and observed how she responded with the hot wire. Unsurprisingly, she was zapped by the hot wire. After she had been zapped, she ran back to her cage and did not going to the training pen anymore. After a few tries, she became alert when she went inside the training pen. She knew that once she was too close and accidently touched the hot wire she would get a zap. Hence, she kept a distance with the hot wire. Besides that, she knows how to avoid being zapped by the hot wire. She was using her claws to grab the food near the fence. When she was able to walk in between the buffer cage and training pen with confidence, this meant that she had passed her fence training.
After fence training, it was time for her to go back to the forest. In order to encourage Kala out to the forest enclosure, we prepared an attractive food trail on a ramp. Once the guillotine door opened, Kala showed her curiosity with the new environment. She sniffed the guillotine door and the ramp first. Then she took a look at the outside and sniffed the forest.
When she was trying to grab the food on the ramp, she placed a front leg out and then both front legs touched the ramp. But, her two hind legs were still inside the cage. She was trying so hard to get the food on the ramp. Once she grabbed the food, she brought it inside and ate it in the cage.
After days passed, there was a sunny day on the 6thof June. When Kala tried to grab the food on the ramp, the ramp was too slippery and she slipped on to the ground.
After she touched the ground, the very first thing she did was explore the environment. She walked and sniffed around the forest enclosure. There were lots of things that attracted her attention, soils, trees that she had not seen for a while. When she saw the trees, she climbed up them. When she saw soil, she started digging it. There are lots of activities that she can do in the forest enclosure. She spends her days in there.
Soil is her favourite enrichment since she was small. She’s smelt, touched and tasted the soil. Even when she feels tired, she lays on the soil and continues to play with it.
Friends are so important for humans and also for bears. Kala joined a big family with Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Susie2 and Damai. They encouraged her when she went to the training pen and also back to the forest as well. And now, Kala can learn survival skills from her friends such as foraging and digging in the forest. They love playing and enjoying the natural environment together. Sometimes they play fight with each other and sometimes they forage together. In the forest Kala learns and plays with her friends and the most important thing is that she is happy.
Text and Photos by Brad Josephs
This past April I had a two week gap between guiding trips in china and Borneo for natural habitat adventures this past April and I could think of no better to spend the time than support the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC.). The founder of the program, Wong Siew Te, is one of the great conservation champions of today. click here to read about Wong, The Sun Bear Hero of Sabah. http://www.alaskabearsandwolves.com/the-sun-bear-hero-of-sabah/
Wong was actually in my freshman class at the university of Montana wildlife biology program in the mid 90"s, and we remember each other, but i transferred to UAF before I really got to know him. He went on to become the first sun bear biologist and founder of the BSBCC, which focuses on public outreach and education, rescuing orphaned bears, or those confiscated by local authorities from the illegal pet trade, and rehabilitating them through introduction into semi wild enclosures. The final goal is to release rehabilitated bears that have regained wild instincts back into the wild to bolster numbers and genetic health of existing wild populations.
Wong took me as a volunteer and my duties were diverse. I cleaned the bear house daily, prepared and dispersed meals of rice, fruits, vegetables and eggs, collected treats such as fresh leaves and insects from the surrounding jungle, photographed the Bears for the center's use, and set up an Instagram account to supplement their social media campaign. I learned so much and it felt so good to work up a sweat every day to help care for these orphaned sun bears, and take some pressure of the dedicated staff.
During dinner one night I asked Wong what I could do to help him the most and he said he needed funding for the release of a female bear named Lawa, a nine year old female bear who was rescued as a orphaned cub and rehabilitated at the BSBCC. Lawa is an excellent climber, builds nests in trees to sleep, forages for termites and other insects, and shows a healthy disassociation and avoidance of humans, which is a crucial behavior for released bears. She has been a candidate for release for a year, but the funding wasn't there. It costs around 13000 U.S. Dollars to charter helicopters for Lawa and the staff to reach a safe wilderness zone, and pay for the radio collar equipment to track Lawa after her release. Monitoring and documenting the status of a released bear is crucial for biologists to learn how rehabilitated bears adjust to the wilderness.
I decided to try a Gofundme campaign to see if I could help with the financial constraints. A few days later I received an email from Natural Habitat Adventures saying that they would like to sponsor the campaign with an impressive 5000 dollars! I was so proud of my company, but not surprised since we are the most conservation focused travel company in the world.
After 10 days around 40 generous donors put up 5000 dollars into the GoFundMe campaign, including one of my high school friends, Ben Bourne, who gave $1000. I guided my trip in early May, which includes a visit to the BSBCC. Tim Brown, one of the travelers in my group pulled me aside and told me that he wanted to donate as much as was needed to finish the campaign, and donated $3000 right there. It was done in three weeks! Lawa will be a wild bear again before this summer is over.
My time volunteering at BSBCC was the most rewarding things I have done in many years. I learned that sun bears are a species unknown to the world, and are in dire circumstances as a species due to poaching and habitat loss. Building a rapport with the bears, and with the dedicated workers specializing in sun bear conservation was an amazing experience. I would recommend this program to anyone who is passionate about wildlife conservation, and can withstand hard work in an oppressive tropical climate.. I hope to return again to support this program, as it needs lots and lots more help. Lets keep fighting!