Hope for the World's Smallest Bears
by Francesca Sandwell
Sep 22, 2010
Positive News Issue 65
Nineteen rescued Sun Bears are settling into their brand new home at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre; the first of its kind in the world. The one-hectare site in Sabah is one of the most exciting preservation projects to date.Found primarily in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, the rapid disappearance of the bears' habitat has seen the population decline drastically. The key aim of the centre is to promote conservation in the region and be self-funding through a visitors' programme. Profits will go to rehabilitate and release orphaned or ex-captive Sun Bears back into the wild, as well as educating the public and raising awareness about the species.
The man behind this unique initiative is Siew Te Wong, a Malaysian wildlife biologist and leading Sun Bear expert. It was his research that first revealed the the plight of these elusive creatures; the smallest of the world's eight bear species. He founded the conservation centre in 2008 and has been directly involved in the rescue of those in captivity, where they are often kept as pets.
"I consider myself very lucky to be able to study and observe them in the wild," says Wong. "They belong to the forest, not behind bars. Seeing them released into the forest enclosure is the first step towards giving them a better life."
Key to the initiative is leading partner LEAP - Land Empowerment Animals People, who work with two government bodies, the Department of Forestry and the Department of Wildlife. The venture has also gained significant support from Raleigh International - a leading youth and education charity, based in the UK, who offer volunteering opportunities on sustainable projects worldwide.
Since 2009 Raleigh groups have been helping to construct perimeter fencing for the new enclosure and build a bridge to provide visitor access to the grounds. Upcoming work includes the completion of trails and board walks so the bears can be viewed in their natural habitats.
Eventually, most of the residents will be reintroduced back into the wild. But those who have weak eyesight or are not fit enough, will remain at the centre and be well looked after by its enthusiastic and committed volunteers.
"I am so pleased that I have kept the promise I made to these bears six years ago - a new home and a new life," says Wong, adding: "To me, they are just like good old friends."
Contact: Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre, PPM 219, Elopura, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia
Wai Pak, project manager, helping
a young bear adapt to her new home
Photo: copyright Charlie Hoare charliehoare.com