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!
The two-month-old sun bear cub was found lifeless and alone in a forest reserve in Pinangah, in Sabah. The forest workers who discovered her called the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), an officer of which drove the little bear to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sandakan. There, the cub, named Wawa by the officer, is now bouncing back, thanks to round-the-clock care.
Wawa is the 48th rescued sun bear to have arrived at the center, which was founded in Sabah in 2008 with the aim of providing care and rehabilitation programs for bears rescued from poachers and illegal wildlife traffickers. The center also provides a home for orphaned cubs like Wawa as well as for older captive bears that cannot be released back into the wild. The non-profit sports well-equipped facilities and has built spacious enclosures with plenty of leafy roaming grounds for the vivacious bears in its care.
Wawa, too, is now in the best of hands at the center. Despite being weak and dehydrated when she arrived, the little bear proved herself a real fighter in a welcome sign that the newborn cub was made of stern stuff and would pull through. “[A]lthough she was exhausted from the six hour drive (needed to take her to the center), she was feisty enough to bark at our staff,” noted BSBCC’s CEO Wong Siew Te. “BSBCC is taking up the challenge to raise this bear and to teach her all that she needs to know before she returns to her natural habitat as an adult,” he added.
Wawa’s mother was likely captured or killed by poachers who may have sold her on the illegal wildlife market. The body parts of sun bears are prized around much of the region in traditional Chinese medicine for their allegedly curative properties, albeit there is zero scientific evidence for any of the claims. “There are no medicinal values of consuming sun bear parts,” SWD’s director William Baya stressed.
Sun bears are protected by law in Sabah under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, with offenders facing the prospect of up to five years in prison and/or a maximum fine of RM50,000. Sadly, however, that has not stopped some opportunistic locals and regular poachers alike from continuing to try and snare or shoot bears in the state’s forests.
“Our department would like to issue a stern warning to those who continue to poach sun bears and other protected wildlife species.” Baya said.“We will take action against those who are found to be involved in such activities.”
The Sundaily, 23rd March 2016
SANDAKAN: Found alone in a forest reserve in Pinangah, within the Telupid district, a female sun bear cub believed to be about two months old is now settling into her new home at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) here.
Named "Wawa" by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) officer who drove her to the centre last Friday, the cub is currently under quarantine and is reported to be improving in terms of her health.
The cub was found lifeless on March 11 by forest workers. said BSBCC chief executive officer Wong Siew Te in a joint statement from SWD today.
Wawa is the 48th rescued sun bear to have arrived at the centre.
Describing the fact that Wawa was found alone as worrying, SWD director William Baya said: "Orphans are rescued and sent to BSBCC from time to time, indicating that their mother may have been killed for their parts as part of an illegal trade business.
"There are no medicinal values of consuming Sun bear parts."
He said they would take action against those who continue to poach sun bears and other protected wildlife species.
Offenders may face penalty of up to five years' jail term or a maximum of RM50,000 fine, or both, he added. — Bernama
SANDAKAN: A young female sun bear was rescued from a forest reserve in Pinangah, Telupid here.
The bear, found weak and almost lifeless, is now recuperating well at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok here.
Named “Wawa” by the Sabah Wildlife Department officer who drove her to the centre last Friday, the cub is currently under quarantine and is said to be improving in terms of her health.
BSBCC Chief Executive Officer Wong Siew Te said the cub was found on March 11 by workers conducting forest monitoring.
They subsequently took the cub to an office operated under the Forest Management Unit (FMU) 16 before it was surrendered to the department that later sent the bear to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near Kota Kinabalu the following day.
“Based on details given to us, Wawa appeared to be weak when she was found. Those who brought her to safety decided it would be best to only give her some water to drink.
“After several days, she arrived at BSBCC and although she was exhausted from the six hour drive, she was feisty enough to bark at our staff.
“Wawa is still weak and dehydrated but she is adapting well. We have been giving her constant care and we hope that she will become stronger in the days to come,” Wong said.
He added that it was very unlikely for a sun bear to abandon her cub and that it was not known what had happened to Wawa’s mother.
“BSBCC is taking up the challenge to raise this bear and to teach her all that she needs to know before she returns to her natural habitat as an adult,” he said adding that this was the 48th rescued sun bear to have arrived at the centre. He reiterated that it is an offence under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 to hunt or to keep sun bears.
New Straits Times, 16th March 2014
By Olivia Miwil | firstname.lastname@example.org
KOTA KINABALU: Five Malayan sun bears were relocated to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sandakan recently, bringing the total of the protected species to 32 currently at the conservation centre. The five bears --four adults and a six-month-old cub-- were previously sheltered at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park after they were previously rescued by forest rangers or were handed in to the authorities by the public.
A full medical examination was conducted to ensure the bears were fit for the eight-hour transfer journey to the centre.
The centre’s chief executive officer, Wong Siew Te said it took his team three hours to unload and settle the bears at their new ‘home’.
"These bears are not part of those for public viewing, but we will continue to monitor and update the public on their progress, here," he added.
The centre is able to receive more bears now after the recent completion of a second bear house.
It will become a home to 34 bears, which include the recent batch and another two coming in by the end of the month.
Wong urged the public to surrender the animal to authority as it was an offense to keep Sun Bears in captivity or as pets.
"They are forest-dependent species and play important roles in the forest ecosystem as seed dispersers in the forest. Their roles are akin to engineers, doctors and farmers in the forest’s ecosystem. They keep our forests healthy, for the benefit of humans and all life forms,".
Meanwhile, Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said those found to be keeping the sun bear any of its body parts could be jailed up to five years or be fined a maximum of RM50,000, if convicted.
"Habitat loss and poaching for parts used in traditional medicine are among key threats that have led to a severe decline of the sun bear population in the last three decades in Sabah.
"Sabah is now at a crossroad, and failure to protect remaining forest reserves would be a deathblow not only for our beautiful sun bears but also many other protected wildlife species such as clouded leopards and Orang utans," he said.
The sun bears is classified as "vulnerable" on the IUCN red list and is at risk of becoming endangered in future.
SANDAKAN: Five Malayan Sun Bears that were either confiscated or handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department between June last year and March 1, this year have been transferred to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) near here.
The Sun Bears were initially sheltered at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park in Kota Kinabalu after they were seized by Sabah Wildlife Department rangers, with some being handed over by the public, Park officer-in-charge and veterinarian, Dr Rosa Sipangkui said.
“We tranquillized the bears in the early afternoon of March 10 and conducted a full medical examination to make sure they were healthy before they were transferred into their transport cages for their eight-hour journey to their new jungle home at the BSBCC in Sandakan.
“Four of the five bears that we sent to BSBCC are males, including a six-month-old cub. Though I feel sad to see them leave Lok Kawi, I am happy for them as they will be getting a much better jungle home and also have an opportunity to be able to live in a forested environment very much like their original habitat and may be rehabilitated and released into a protected forest reserve one day,” Rosa said in a statement yesterday.
BSBCC chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said it took his team three hours to unload the bears when they arrived, and to settle them into the bear house.
“We are monitoring their progress, and we will keep the public updated on how they are doing. With the completion of our second bear house, BSBCC is now able to receive more bears that were previously in captivity or those rescued by the Department.
“The bears that we received are not part of those for public viewing at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. With the expected arrival of two more bears this week, BSBCC will become home to 34 bears,” Wong said.
He stressed that it is an offence for the public to keep a protected species, and anyone who has the animal in captivity should surrender it to the department.
“My message to the public is that Sun Bears are protected by law and cannot be kept as pets. Sun Bears are forest dependent species and play important roles in the forest ecosystem as seed dispersers, forest engineers, forest doctors and forest farmers. They keep our forests healthy, for the benefit of humans and all life forms,” Wong said.
Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said Sun Bears fall under Schedule 1 of the Totally Protected wildlife species list in the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, and that killing, keeping a bear, or having in possession body parts like claws and gall bladders could result in punishment of up to five years’ jail or a maximum of RM50,000 fine.
“Habitat loss and poaching for parts used in traditional medicine are among key threats that have led to a severe decline of the Sun Bear population in the last three decades in Sabah.
“Sabah is now at a crossroad and failure to protect remaining forest reserves would be a deathblow not only for our beautiful Sun Bears but also many other protected wildlife species such as Clouded Leopards and Orang Utans that share a common habitat with the Sun Bear,” Ambu said.
In Borneo, the smallest of the world’s eight bear species is also seeing a drop in numbers following their illegal capture for the pet trade and when they are wrongly perceived as pests and gunned down.
The Polar Bear, Brown Bear, American Black Bear, Spectacled Bear, Sloth Bear, Giant Panda and Asiatic Black Bear are other better known bear species.
Found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra in Indonesia and Borneo, the exact number of Sun Bears in the wild is unknown, making it even more pressing to reduce pressure on a species that is classified as “vulnerable” on The IUCN Red List, and at risk of becoming endangered unless circumstances threatening their survival improve.