Malayan sun bears are the smallest bear in the world and are only found in south east Asia. The sun bear is classified as a vulnerable species by the IUCN, and is the second rarest bear specie after the giant panda. According to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), sun bears continue to be threatened by forest degradation, illegal hunting for bear parts which are often used for traditional medicine and poaching to obtain young cubs for the pet trade. Yet before visiting the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok, Sabah, we hardly knew anything about sun bears.
The BSBCC, which currently houses 46 rescued sun bears, is across the road from the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. This location means it can easily be visited between the morning and afternoon feeding sessions at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. The BSBCC’s work revolves around welfare and rehabilitation, education and research on sun bears.
While exploring the BSBCC and meeting the adorable sun bears, we were fortunate to meet Dr. Wong Siew Te, CEO and Founder of BSBCC, wildlife biologist and passionate conservationist.
Dr. Wong established the BSBCC in 2008 after completing his studies and witnessing both the beauty of sun bears and wildlife in the rainforest, and the cruelty exerted against sun bears when they are poached, hunted and kept in captivity. Sun bears are currently not a conservation priority, so he hopes the BSBCC will raise awareness about the bears. Dr. Wong knew many of the sun bears by name, and had raised many from when they were cubs. Dr. Wong and the BSBCC staff can identify many of the bears individually due to the unique orange-yellow horseshoe shape of colour on their chest.
For Dr. Wong, the key threat to sun bears is poaching. Deforestation is less of a threat now in Sabah, because most loggable forests have already been cut down, and because the value of the rainforest and wildlife for eco tourism has now been recognised.
While guiding us through the park, Dr. Wong also pointed out to us the rare ironwood trees that were left in the forest. These trees, which feel as strong as steel, take hundreds of years to grow, and can reach a height of 50 metres. The IUCN also classifies Borneo’s ironwood as vulnerable. Dr. Wong also noted that it looks like primary forest, the forest surrounding the BSBCC was selectively logged for ironwood around 80 years ago.
When we asked whether Dr. Wong has noticed any effects of climate change on the sun bears, he replied that he definitely had in more extreme weather events such as severe storms, and changing weather patters that have led to less rain.
Thanks Dr. Wong for sharing your wisdom with us and your conservation efforts. We encourage everyone to visit both the BSBCC and the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre to see these animals up close and support these important conservation efforts.