KOTA KINABALU: The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sandakan is aiming to raise RM500,000 to partially fund the construction of a second bear house before the facility opens to the public early next year.
Part of the money raised will also go to creating a one hectare enclosure for the new bear house, and to meet operational costs for this year to sustain the Centre that begun in 2008 with seven rescued sun bears.
The Centre now provides refuge to 28 bears.
A fundraising dinner will be held on July 20 at the Hakka Association Hall.
Five years ago, a similar event was held in Kota Kinabalu that saw RM1.3mil generated for the Centre’s early days including the construction of the first bear house.
BSBCC chief executive officer and founder Wong Siew Te said this year’s operational and construction costs runs into RM2mil and that despite commitment of generous donors. The Centre needs fall short in expenses.
“We appeal to Malaysians, especially the Sandakan business community to support this fundraiser. We believe that by doing your bit and attending the event, you will be able to better understand the significance of sun bears and the types of threats faced by this species.
“This Centre is the only facility of its kind in the world. We rescue, educate, research and rehabilitate, and as Malaysians, we should be proud that the Centre is located in Sandakan,” Wong said in a statement to announce the fundraising dinner.
The Centre is located next to the world-famous Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and is also close to the increasingly popular Rainforest Discovery Centre.
Habitat loss, poaching for parts used in traditional medicine and the pet trade are among key threats that have led to a decline by at least 30% of the sun bear population in the last three decades.
Sun bears are the smallest of the world’s eight bear species.
Found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra in Indonesia and Borneo, the exact number of sun bears in the wild remains unknown, making it even more pressing to reduce pressure on a species that is classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List (International Union for Conservation of Nature), and at risk of becoming endangered unless circumstances threatening their survival improved.
Sun bears are also classified as a Totally Protected Species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enact-ment 1997, providing it the same status as orang utans and sumatran rhinoceros.
Wong said prior to the setting up of the Centre, sun bears were kept illegally as pets while confiscated bears were housed at a government facility.
He said the Centre provides care and a chance for the bears to learn what it is like to live in the forest by accessing an attached natural forest within an enclosed area.
Wong said an observation platform and boardwalk were completed last year, and that the Centre was poised to become an important education and awareness facility, and could additionally serve as an eco-tourism destination.
“However, we need a second bear house and enclosure to accommodate all the bears before we can officially open the Centre, and we also need to complete the visitor centre and educational exhibits,” he said.
He said the Sime Darby Foun-dation, the Sabah State Government including the Sabah Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, and several foreign organisations and zoos in the United States were among generous agencies that had contributed towards the Centre’s development.
The fundraising dinner with the theme “Big Dreams, Little Bears” will see Wong sharing with guests updates on sun bears, as well as an exclusive photographic art auction by Jonathan Tan.
Performers lined up for the evening include Jaclyn Victor, Gary Chaw @ Cao Ge, Pink Tan and Amir Yussof and friends, while the masters of ceremony are Lina Teoh and Vincent Huang.
A free documentary screening is scheduled for July 21 at the Sabah Hotel for 500 students, teachers and representatives of local associations.
The event is supported by the Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry and the main sponsor is Sabah Hotel, which is creating a unique banquet menu.
Other sponsors include CPL Printing, Jonathan T Gallery, IM Magazine and Merdeka Daily News.
The BSBCC was set up through collaboration of the Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).
To learn more about the bears, visit www.bsbcc.org.my and Facebook pagewww.facebook.com/sunbear.bsbcc.