Happy New Year my dear friends!
I am sure everyone agrees with me that the year 2021 has been a challenging year for all of us because of the devastating COVID19 pandemic. Almost everyone has been affected by this pandemic that lasted for the past two years and sees no sign of eliminating this virus by the end of 2021. During the past two years, millions of unfortunate people have lost their lives from the COVID19 virus including people we knew. Besides the impact of the pandemic, several states across West Malaysia have been affected by the worst flood ever, displaced tens of thousands of residents in mid-December. In short, life is hard in 2021 for many of us!
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) has been closed to the public in response to the Malaysian government’s Movement Control Order (MCO) to control the pandemic from March 18, 2020, until October 23, 2021. During the closure, we have lost all the revenue from ticket sales that were so vital to the operational costs to run the entire Centre. Despite all the hardship, I am glad that we have thrived these two years of difficulties and are able to welcome the New Year. We made it this far because of your support, generous helps, and because you believed in us! I will never say enough thank you to all funders, especially Hasanah Foundation and Sime Darby Foundation and not forgetting our sun bear adopters. These financial supports are so crucial during 2021. Without your help, we definitely will not last the second year of the pandemic.
BSBCC remained closed to the public during the first ten and a half months of 2021 but its internal operations remained unchanged. For a long period in 2021, our staff had to break into two teams with alternating teams on duty as a precaution against the pandemic. At the same time, many of our officers worked from home to comply with the standard operating procedure set by the government. I wanted to thank our dedicated staff and volunteers who have been working tirelessly to the upkeep of our rescued sun bears and maintaining our facilities. Although I am the founder and C.E.O. of the Centre, it is them who conduct all the daily tasks and remain as my heroes and heroines. Thank you all!
BSBCC continued to conserve sun bears with a busy schedule in 2021 despite its closure to the public most of this year. On 10th January 2021, we released two of our rehabilitated sun bears, Sunbearo and Loki into Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Unfortunately, Sunbearo’s satellite signals were found to be static on 27th January. He was found dead on the 31st of January. We suspected that he was killed by a resident bear in Tabin WR. Whereas Loki’s satellite collar suffered from a malfunction with no signal ever received. The outcome of this release was disheartening but it did not discourage us from working hard to help the sun bears. By March, the condition of Betung, the super malnourished sun bear cub we rescued six months earlier was growing and progressing well. We also had a big surprise on the morning of 20th May when we found Bintang, a female sun bear, giving birth to a sun bear infant who we named “Luna”. Luna has to be hand-raised starting on the 8th day because of life-threatening complications. She is now seven months old and growing well under good care. At the turn of this New Year, BSBCC is home to 44 sun bears.
We celebrated the International Sun Bear Day online on May 16th with several activities including a virtual tour of BSBCC hosted by me and the book launch of the Wildlife Wong and the Orangutans written by Dr. Sarah Pye. Besides this book, Sarah also published two other Wildlife Wong book series in 2021: Wildlife Wong and the Sun Bear, and Wildlife Wong and the Pygmy Elephants. Sarah and I also conducted the Saving Sun Bear Book Club meets once a month throughout the year. The pandemic did not slow us down to raising awareness for sun bears. In 2021, I have authored and co-authored five scientific papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and written three articles for magazines on sun bears and forest ecology; I have delivered three presentations in online conferences and given ten online talks. BSBCC and the sun bears were also featured in five visual media like in BBC Eden: Borneo and BBC Earth Podcast, and additional 19 newspaper articles. I also hosted many online “virtual tours” for viewers across the world to “visit” BSBCC virtually and learn about the sun bears and the rainforest.
As of the development of the Centre, the construction of our new ticketing and shop building was completed in early 2021. With the COVID-19 situation improved in the second half of the year, BSBCC reopened to the public on 23rd October 2021 after 18 months of closure. The new ticketing and shop building have significantly improved visitors’ shopping experience. It was the moment of rejoice when the visitors started coming back, hope is on the horizon to welcome the visitors!
Personally speaking, 2021 was a challenging year for my health as I was diagnosed with a severe form of dengue fever called “severe dengue shock syndrome” in mid-April and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. I am extremely lucky to be able to discharge from the hospital after a week of treatments. I am extremely grateful to the doctors and nurses who saved my life during that critical moment. It made me value “life is short, live it to the fullest” even more! We have to maximize and contribute our efforts to help wildlife, the environment, and society while we can before it is too late!
In 2008 I founded the BSBCC to help Sabah Wildlife Department to conserve sun bears through holistic approaches. This project is ambitious and challenging but with the help from so many people across the world, we have come far after 14 years of hardworking. Although the pandemic impacted us hard, I believe “whatever doesn’t kill us will make us stronger”. The biggest hope I have for this New Year, like everyone else, is we can win this war against the COVID-19 pandemic so that life can resume normally for everyone.
We have a lot of plans for BSBCC and the bears in the future. Hopefully, with your continuous support and subside of the pandemic in this New Year, we can accomplish even more to conserve sun bears and their habitat. Once again, I am grateful to all donors, sun bear adopters, volunteers, staff, fans, and followers to make our work possible! Thank you!
I wish you a Happy New Year! May the New Year bring happiness, joy, peace, and safety to all beings on Earth!
Dr (Hon) Wong Siew Te, D.J.N.
C.E.O. and Founder,
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre