3/31/08

Captive sun bear series III: Life in hell


If these baby bears can past the crucial infant stage where extensive cares was needed, they could pretty much make it to adulthood without any problem. However, more suffering once they grew bigger and stronger. By a year old, they could reached 15 kg, and were no longer safe pets to their human owners. Their strength grew, together with the tools that they used to find food: claws and canines, which could potentially did a lot of damage, if they wanted to. Depending on where were them kept and who kept them, they could be locked in small metal cages, sometime as small as 1m x 1.5m x 1.5m. In places like mini zoo or private menageries, they were usually kept in slightly larger cages with cement floor. One thing for sure is that these bears will never had a chance to feel soil, use their claws to dig, or their canine to bite (I will write more about how a wild sun bear live in the wild later). Most people who live in the countries where sun bears are found have no idea what is animal welfare about. In their dictionary, there is no such terms like “animal rights”, nor “animal welfare.” They do not think that the animals also have feeling, emotion, dignity, and can feel pain like a human being. What most people think about most animals is that they are here to serve us. As a result, bear owners do not feel it is wrong to cage a magnificent wildlife like a sun bear in a small cage. They think that as long as they feed the bear, and the bear stay alive, they are doing a very good job on “TAKING CARE” of the bears.



Sun bears are very “durable” animals. I say so because they can pretty much live on any kind of food once they passed the infant or young cub stage. They can be fed on pure fruit diet or pure rice diet by the owners or animal keepers who do not have a clue on nutritional or balance diet for a carnivore like sun bear. They will feed them whatever is the cheapest, easiest to obtain, and simplest for their job: “taking care” of bears! Most people will never feed these bear any meat product because they think by doing so the bear will become a “man eater” or be very dangerous. Yet, most captive bears are over fed, they are obesed, and look being well “taken care” of.
Local tourists who visited the menageries, mini zoos, crocodile farms, or even zoos, do not think that it s wrong to keep the bears in such poor condition. Almost no one will feel sympathy for the bears being raised in such a poor condition. In stead, they think that the bears were quite funny, quite amusing, and fun to watch, especially these bears may stand up right to beg food from visitors. No one complains about the bears have small room to roam, hot under baking tropical sun, etc. At the end, these bears continue their suffering, no one concern about their welfare.

3/29/08

Captive sun bear series II: Life at young in captivity, the suffering begin..

Because they are small and cute, sun bear owner often keep them in a small pet cage for puppies or birds. This is the beginning of life in hell.
I once saw a bear cub in a crocodile farm in Sarawak. From a distant he looked like a puppy because she was place next to a puppy. But from my distance, she did not look like a puppy because she paced none stopped. Puppy rarely paced, but sun bear pace all the time in captivity. Her condition was a typical bear cub in captivity: malnutrition with very pale color coat, weak, dehydration, stress, and extremely nervous. I immediately put my finger into her month to let her suckle.


Sun bear cub suckle to seek comfort. It is the same reason as babies like to suck pacifier. If their mother is around, they of course nurse from their mother’s nipples, even until they reach adulthood. I once saw an adult sun bear in Singapore Zoo do that even when he was an adult.
Solitary captive bears suck on pretty much any body part that they can get hold of: hand, feet, even their own penis, vulva, or other bears’ ears, if they have a companion to stay with. They will admit a series of “ummmmmmm..” sound with their eyes half closed when suckle. This is pretty much the first thing I do when I approached a nervous captive bear cubs, let them suckle, they then will calm down quickly and slowly trusting me.
video
Like other animals, infant sun bears are very fragile creatures that need lots of care, attention, and nutrition. In captivity under human care, they usually receive very little of these essential elements, not to mention TLC that their mother use to give them. Unknown number of cubs died due to improper care, simply because of these so call bear owners do not have a clue how to take care and what to feed to baby bears. Many of them were given sweet condense milk, high fruity diet like lots of papaya and banana because they are cheap. Because of imbalance diet, many sun bear babies in captivities show signs of malnutrition and unhealthy. They did not have sleek black coat, but in stead, their hairs are sparse, dull, and pale color. Many of the cubs that looks like this will not live long.
In Indonesia or Thailand, high government officials often keep bears or other wildlife to simply show off their power and status. In other region, rich people buy those cubs to amuse them. However, bears are carnivores, no matter how cute and how tame they are when young, they will eventually turn into a dangerous beast no matter what given a year or two. They are well equipped with the tools to harm their owner or anyone who are less lucky. Sometime these casualties maybe not be an intentional attack or predatory behavior, they are simply the beasts that can cause serious injuries to human during bear play fights. This is what they are after all!

(Notes: it was uneasy for me when I posted this piece after searching through my old photo files of these sun bears cubs. Looking at the photos and video clips of these babies were absolutely heart broken! They brought me to the actual scene when I found these babies.)

3/28/08

Captive sun bears series I: Because they are cute!


Its all started here: sun bear cubs are cute, they are so cute and adorable, way from any body’s imagination. If you think puppies are cute or kittens are cute or baby orangutans are cute or human babies are cute, think again after you see a sun bear cub!


And also because sun bears are the smallest bears in the world and so cute, they make a perfect pet (well, I do not think so). This is where it all started: Sun bear cubs are being captured and sell as pets after poachers killed their mother for profit. Bear meat, paws, claws, canines, gallbladder, bear hide, you name it, all have a price tag and people willing to pay good money for bear products.

Back in 2000, a friend who visited me in Danum where I did my first sun bear ecology study told me that he saw some one trying to sell a small sun bear cub at Gaya Street Pasar Tamu, Kota Kinabalu’s famous Sunday market, just few days ago. The cub was priced at few hundred ringgit. Beside this poor cub was her mother, chopped into pieces, sell for meat. I was in complete stunned and don’t know what to say.
Photo by Gabriella Fredrikksson

Of each of the cute sun bear we see in captivity, there is a heartbreaking story to tell that we do not see. Yes, they are so cute. But no, they are so sad…


To be continue..

3/27/08

Friend of bears

By Tan Cheng Li

The Star, 8 Aug 2006

WONG Siew Te can talk for hours on end about sun bears. His passion for his study subject is genuine and apparent; so it comes as a surprise to hear that he never actually chose to study them.

“It was by chance,” says the gregarious researcher from Bukit Mertajam, Penang, who had always wanted to work with animals and had bred dogs, fish and birds as a teenager.
As a student of wildlife biology at University of Montana, United States in 1994, he had attended a talk by Dr Christopher Servheen, the co-chair of the IUCN (World Conservation Union) group on bears. Wong later enquired about projects on sun bears out of curiosity and co-incidentally, Servheen was looking for a Malaysian to study the animal. A decision was pretty much made there and then; Wong will research into sun bears for his Masters programme.

In preparation for the project, he spent summer breaks as a field assistant with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in research on grizzly and black bears, a routine which continued even after he started his doctorate programme in 2002.
Wildlife biologist Wong Siew Te taking the measurements of a Malayan sun bear, checking its health and getting blood and hair samples. – Photo by WONG SIEW TE


His experience in handling over 100 wild bears, mostly black bears in the Cabinet-Yaak Wilderness in Montana, proves invaluable for his fieldwork in Sabah.

A typical day at Danum Valley sees Wong checking traps for successful captures. When he gets a bear, he first sedates it and then spends up to 90 minutes taking measurements, checking its health and getting blood and hair samples (for future population genetic studies). Wong is adept at this, backed up by a diploma in animal science and veterinary and tenure as wildlife research assistant in Taiwan.

He also tattoos an identification number on its inner lip and attaches an ear tag, before attaching a radio transmitter collar. A nylon “spacer” attachment prevents the collar from staying on permanently. Once frayed, the spacer tears, allowing the collar to drop off for retrieval.
“Because of their shy, secretive nature and dense tropical forest habitat, it is impossible to study sun bears from direct observation like studying primates or Africa’s wildlife. So I use radio-telemetry and camera traps for my research,” explains Wong.

While he tirelessly stalks the roaming of sun bears in Sabah, his Taiwanese wife and two daughters, age five and one and a half, remain in Taipei. “I last saw them during Chinese New Year (February) but we talk on the computer every day,” he says with a hint of longing in his voice.

Such sacrifices aside, Wong is thankful for the opportunity to study the species. “The more I learn about sun bears, the more I know they need help and the more I worry for them. They will remain my focus for now since no one is working on them and I have accumulated much experience and knowledge about the species.”
For the sake of the long-ignored sun bear, one certainly hopes that he will maintain stewardship of protecting the world’s smallest bear.

Fighting for survival


By TAN CHENG LI

Photos by WONG SIEW TE

The Star, 8 Aug 2006



The world’s smallest bear, the Malayan sun bear, faces a not-so-sunny future as its natural habitat is fast diminishing and trails left by loggers open the way for hunters who covet its body parts.


BEAR #102 is a regular visitor at the base camp of Infapro, a forest regeneration project at the Ulu Segama forest in Sabah. Under the cloak of darkness, he would turn over rubbish bins, even break into staff quarters, in search of a meal.
His other popular haunt is the field centre of the Danum Valley Conservation Area close by, where he has been caught feasting on canned food and bottled chillie sauce, among other things.
The antics of #102, a healthy male Malayan sun bear weighing 56kg, has been closely watched by wildlife researcher Wong Siew Te, who has trapped and radio-collared the animal. Wong named the bear what else but, Infapro.


A Malayan sun bear tearing a log apart to feast on termites found within. The only bear species found in Malaysia, sun bears are the least studied of the world’s eight bear species.


Infapro is testimony to the fact that when civilization encroaches into the wilds – animals start invading pantries instead of foraging for jungle edibles. Infapro is also “trap-happy”, having been recaptured twice. Bears learn fast. Infapro knows that once trapped, he would not only get food and be released but also gets a special treat, honey, which Wong uses to calm trapped bears.
Wong is pursuing a three-year doctorate project on the effects of selective logging on the species and bearded pigs. “By monitoring signals sent out by the radio collars, I can locate and track the bears to find out their habitat and home range, what they eat and what they do the whole day,” says the student of University of Montana, United States.


He captured three bears within a week in September last year but these days, he finds other animals, civet cats, in particular, in the traps. Remote-sensing automatic cameras (or camera traps) reveal three other bears but these have ignored the baits.
The other radio-collared bear is #103 or Bruno, a 45kg male. Locating and tracking Bruno has been difficult as he seldom strays from his rugged forested home, unlike Infapro who prefers the easier route – dirt roads.


Over two hours’ drive from Lahad Datu, Wong’s project site covers the virgin Danum Valley Conservation Area and the logged Ulu Segama forest reserve next door. From 1998 to 2000, while studying the ecology of sun bears there for his Masters degree, he had radio-collared six bears and gained much insight into the mammal, which is the least studied of the world’s eight bear species.


“I call Malayan sun bears the forgotten bear species,” says Wong, 37. “It is Malaysia’s only bear species but get so little attention.”


With so little known about the species, its conservation status is uncertain and the IUCN (World Conservation Union) has classified it as “data deficient”.


But Wong fears that sun bears are endangered as they are highly dependent on forests, which are fast diminishing. “No one knows their population but one thing we do know is that they number fewer than orangutans. So if orangutans are endangered, sun bears are even more endangered.”


In fact, the low trapping success at Danum hints at a sparse population. Another ominous sign – Wong has not encountered any of his previously radio-collared bears. He does not know why but thoughts of hunters at work never strayed from his mind.
Though a protected species, sun bears are still poached for their meat, paws and gall bladders, which purportedly have health benefits. Natives, in the past, wear bear claws and canines to drive away evil spirits.


Famine in the forest Sun bear survival hangs on intact forests for as the green cover thins, so does food supply. Logging, says Wong, not only removes tall trees which bears sleep in but also damages the figs and oaks which feed them. Logging roads also create convenient access for poachers.


Contrary to popular belief, food is not always abundant in the moist tropical jungle. “The rainforest is a harsh environment. Forest production is low except during mass fruiting season and small sporadic fruiting in between,” says Wong.
His previous study documented a famine in Ulu Segama. Much to his misery, he found eight sun bears and many bearded pigs which were all skin and bones. Two radio-collared bears later died from starvation.


Named for the golden or white ‘U’ shape patch on their chests, sun bears are otherwise all black with smooth, short fur.


Wong believes weather changes, and habitat changes brought on by logging, had altered fruiting cycles and eventually led to the famine. He fears the impact of a future famine.
Now we protect sun bears only on paper. Policing against hunters and illegal trade in bear parts is poor, as are surveys on sun bear distribution and population. Wong says the lack of knowledge hinders conservation efforts.


To plug the information gap, he will embark on a year-long project to map sun bear distribution in the country. This will pinpoint areas of conservation priorities.
Other hurdles are public ignorance and the problem of captive bears. Sun bears are popular zoo exhibits but they really do not belong in a cramped artificial environment, being creative and exploratory by nature.


Cute and cuddly cubs kept as pets quickly outgrow their appeal and are conveniently surrendered to wildlife authorities. Captive bears cannot fend for themselves in the wild and in Sabah, many end up at Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan – simply because the facility has cages to spare.


Visits to Sepilok often leaves Wong depressed as he sees bears pacing in tiny cages, shaking their heads. Bent on improving the bears’ living conditions, he has raised funds to build a recreation pen with climbing structures for the 11 bears there.


But another 20 bears remain caged in deplorable facilities in zoos and private parks in the state but cannot be seized as Sepilok no longer has room. Lacking a place to house captive sun bears, Sabah Wildlife Department in 2004 released 10 individuals into Deramakot forest reserve but there are no checks on their survival. It also sent 10 bears to American zoos in 1996 and again in 2000.


To shelter captive and displaced bears, Wong has proposed a sun bear sanctuary at Tabin Wildlife Reserve, 50km from Lahad Datu. Talks have gone on for three years but funds fell short.


Like many overlooked species, sun bears compete for conservation attention with species such as the Sumatran rhinoceros, Malayan tigers, Asian elephants and orangutans.
But with their home seized by loggers and planters, and hunters after their body parts, sun bears face a bleak future and surely, deserve more conservation care.

An unbearable future


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About halfway through his presentation, bear researcher Wong Siew Te showed a duotone slide. Pictured was a small sun bear cub, with a rather rotund body and bright, pleading eyes. It was trussed up like a chicken. Right after the photograph was taken by a Japanese researcher in Borneo, the cub was taken to a kitchen and slaughtered as it screamed.
This is the fate of most bears that come into contact with men in this region.
In much of the temperate northern hemisphere, bears both black and brown as well as the men who deign to live in their territories operate under an uneasy truce. Live and let live is the usual case, even when a grizzly appears in your driveway and proceeds to make a meal out of a moose. But tensions are inevitable, as when animals that have come to associate humans with tasty hand-outs take unkindly to individuals without a salmon in hand. But the northern woods are vast and the boreal provinces of Canada more than big enough to fit both bear and man. Even in that land of rifles and rednecks south of the border, Bruin is both loved and feared with equal measure. The primal fear that pioneers bestowed on fellow flatfoots still exists, but now coexists with a gamut of responses from morbid fascination to friendly iconolatry in the form of fire-fighting mascots and plush playroom essentials. My duck disapproves of Knut's fondness for fowl though.

Brown, black and polar bears are more than capable of eating humans and sometimes do, but these carnivores, the largest meat-eaters to stalk the earth today, still command a grudging respect from those who share their land, and even warrant some measure of concern over how the great white hunter is at peril from global warming. The smallest and probably most secretive of bears though, the Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) has no such luck despite its distinct preference for fruit and grubs rather than manmeat, and is regarded as either foe or/and food throughout its range, which historically spanned the easternmost frontier of India to southern China down to Sumatra and Borneo. But as Wong put it, the sun bear "has been extirpated in much of its range" and recent sightings suggest that the species survives in but a mere fraction of its former homestead.

The shrinking world of the littlest bearAbout the size of a large dog but with vastly greater bulk (males reach nearly 60 kg), the Malayan sun bear is the world's smallest bear species and the least known. The only true tropical rainforest bear (a ghostly subspecies of the black bear lives in Canadian rainforests), the sun bear is a big-headed animal with sleek black fur and a yellowish mark of varying size and shape on the chest that serves to distinguish individuals. Feet bearing long curved claws help create suitable openings in tree holes for the animal to search out insects and honey using its very long tongue, as evident in the casualty on the right, which was shot simply because it was seen and its existence deemed intolerable.

According to Wong, the sun bear is now "almost gone" from Vietnam, found only in some national parks in Thailand (which incredibly cover barely a tenth of the country's vast land area), and exists in fragmented populations in Sumatra. In Peninsular Malaysia, the bears are concentrated in forest complexes such as Taman Negara, the Titiwangsa range and the Southern Forest Complex (of which Endau-Rompin National Park is but a slice). Like many other sympatric megafauna, sun bears need undisturbed forests to thrive. So as the trees are felled and land cleared of its carbon-stripping units, the earth simmers and mourns the growing loss of creatures that have survived ice ages but not the fatal pincer of man's insatiable hunger for land, lumber and lips-smacking mammalian delicacies. As ecologist Richard Corlett noted recently, many long-studied forests in Southeast Asia have nothing left but deer and boar, and some not at all. And as the elephants, rhinos, orang-utans, gibbons, tapirs and bears vanish, they take with them the future generations of trees that once relied on these beasts to disperse their seeds and carve new clearings in the jungle where saplings might sprout.

Wong regards Borneo as the last stronghold of the sun bear. Unfortunately the island's population offers just half a hope, as the bears have during their stay evolved into a distinctively smaller sub-species, Helarctos malayanus euryspilus. Isolation does annoying things to both people and pandas. Conservationists cringe when captive Bornean orang-utans are mated with Sumatran apes, which are distant cousins separated by a million-year gap. Sabah's pygmy elephants are to Asian elephants what African forest jumbos are to their savannah cousins, giving ivory battlers twice as many species to fight for. And the identity of clouded leopards is now muddied by mottled felines from Borneo and Sumatra.

Somewhat optimistically, the IUCN Red List that ranks species according to their risk of extinction rates the sun bear as merely "vulnerable", owing perhaps to the lack of recent data. The wildlife trade regulators do somewhat better, according the sun bear to Appendix I on the CITES list that bars crossborder trade of a species and its parts unless one has enough grease to oil the joints of otherwise tightfisted customs officials. That said, internal legal protection of bears against poaching and exploitation is as good as the ability of authorities to police forest firestarters and hardwood thieves. As Wong put it, giving an animal "protected" status in Malaysia or Indonesia simply means you need a license to shoot it.

The key habitats of sun bears are lowland tropical rainforests such as those in Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, although Wong notes that curiously, surprising populations of sun bears can be found in peat swamp forests (a habitat that is even more endangered than terrestrial rainforests in Malaysia and Borneo and home to near-extinct obligates such as the hairy-nose otter and false gharial). Unfortunately, the sun bear's preferred haunts are also where fine furniture lovers obtain their raw materials, such as Bornean ironwood, a tree so densely built that it sinks and takes nearly a thousand years to reach a harvestable size. With the additional impetus of biofuels that now drives a crazed and counterproductive frenzy to cover the region with 'climate friendly' oil palms, the sun bear and its homelands, which cover a mere 6% of the earth's surface but harbour an estimated 50% of all plant and animal species (Corlett & Primack, 2005), face a future that is bleak at best and at worst incapable of sustaining advanced life, be it human or better.

Bearly known when Wong commenced his fieldwork in Ulu Segama Forest Reserve, Sabah, for his M.Sc. from 1999-2001, the sun bear was a little known quality. Other than Wong, only two other workers are active in the field of sun bears: F. Nomura in Tabin Forest, Sabah and Gabriella Frederiksson in Sungai Wain Forest, East Kalimantan.

"Before my work, we had no idea what they eat in the forest, what habitats they prefer," Wong said of this "forgotten species." Compounding the problem for researchers is the animal's general elusiveness, be it from its nocturnal and cryptic habits, low natural population density or less happily, its sheer rarity as a result of hunting and habitat loss. During his time in Sabah, Wong recalls seeing a good number of orang-utans, but just a handful of sun bears. "How can a mammal that plays such an important role in the jungle not be studied?" he wonders aloud.
To study bears, the animals have to be captured (preferably alive), tagged or radio-collared, released and followed as they pursue their daily activities. Culvert traps made from aluminium, makeshift drums and logwood traps baited with 3-day old chicken entrails were used to lure the bears. The latter two methods had to be abandoned when the animals proved more than capable of clawing their way out of solid wood and metal. Bycatches were common, with civets, mongooses, pangolins, porcupines and monitor lizards making frequent appearances. The bears, as noted, were scarce; only 6 were captured from 1999-2000 and a stint from 2005-2007 yielded only 4 animals. Some animals had gunshot wounds and during the 1999-2000 study, the animals were severely emaciated, with two later found dead after release.
By tracking the collared animals, Wong estimates that a male sun bear needs about 15.5 square km of territory, with females making do with less. Favoured bedding sites include large tree cavities, cavities under large tree roots, big logs (both in and under) and exposed tree branches. Ground level cavities and hollow logs are believed to be especially important as dens for breeding females, suggesting that retaining some mature trees, including dead and hollow ones, is vital for their survival in disturbed or logged forests.

Wong showed images of animals wedged on trees 45 m from the ground, proving that climbing trees is probably of little use in eluding a nosy sun bear.
The bears' food habits were studied by analysing fresh scats (bear shit), examining feeding sites and, where the subject permitted, gawking at the animal. Evidence of bears at work include damage at the nests of termites and stingless bees, claw marks on tree trunks and fallen logs. Camera traps at known feeding spots such as mature fig trees also recorded bears rolling about on the ground, pulling faces, other creatures such as clouded leopards, marbled cats and the elusive bay cat. At times, elephants took offence to flash-in-your-eye primate paparazzi, stomping on barrel traps and shutting down cameras.

In order of decreasing importance, beetles, figs, beetle larvae, termites and interestingly enough, ants, topped the bears' menu. The bears primarily fed on insects (59% of diet), plant material (30%) and occasionally on other vertebrates, which in Wong's sample included pheasants, lizards, fish and a Burmese brown tortoise. In turn, adult bears are known to fall prey to reticulated pythons.

A little aside on figs. Known as "wu hua guo" or flowerless fruit by the Chinese, Ficus is a most curious genus of trees, stranglers and climbers. Besides the banyan, the bough most beloved of Buddhists is also a fig with the appropriate name of religiosa. Most plants produced flowers before the fruit, but figs fruit and flower at the same time, with the tiny inflorescences lining an internal hollow in the unfertilised fruit. Through a minute hole at the base of the fruit, fig wasps just millimetres long make their way in and lay eggs in the ovaries of some of the individual flowers. These egg-laden galls are their bounty for fertilising the rest of the fruit-flower with pollen from the figs where they emerged mated and moribund. From their collective brood, male wasps mature and begin an insemination spree before helpfully chewing a small hole to allow their mates passage through a shower of pollen and dying thereafter. Each fig species has a unique fig wasp adapted to fertilising it, so the absence of the wasp (as early fig fans found out) leads to barren trees. So the next time you chew a fig, just think about all the little wasps that grew and died (and probably still remain in traces) to provide this most nutritious of fruits. For forest creatures, figs are also a matter of life and death. Animals from hornbills to howler monkeys rely on the near omnipresence of fig fruits for sustenance in jungles that are often dietary deserts for frugivores due to the extreme seasonality of most other fruit trees. Hence, like elephants in Africa, figs are keystone species in rainforests. A single tree may have 2 million figs that feed browsers in the canopy down to ground level foragers such as bears and bearded pigs.

It turned out that extreme weather patterns are just as bad for sun bears as their arctic kin. Wong's initial study followed the most severe El Niño-induced drought known, in 1998. The dessication, plus widespread forest fires, caused fig wasps to become locally extinct in many parts of Borneo on a scale vast enough to trigger mass abortion of fruit by unfertilised trees. With neither fruit nor the wasps to pollinate the figs, a period of scarcity occurred. Highly fruit reliant species such as bears and bearded pigs were found starving or dying. Over time, fig wasps from areas where they survived would have recolonised the decimated regions and trigger a recovery, at least until manmade outbreaks of peat fires and sun-blocking haze wipe up every year's crop. But the broader lesson from this episode is that mature fig trees are vital to the survival of many rainforest animals, and in turn the animals and plants that they feed or pollinate.

Paws for thoughtWhatever the cause of their famine, many bears end up scrounging for food at the fringes of agricultural land and human settlements, where nutritious oil palm fruit and garbage heaps abound. And with that, the killings shoot up as plantation managers seek to control a lumbering pest. Those with a taste for "xiong zhang", fancying themselves latter day emperors, will seek out bears as they wander away from the heart of shrunken forests into private estates and paw-filled stews. Meanwhile, the gall bladders are sought for their bile and despite an apparent surfeit of farms filled with milked bears, the hunting still goes on in the wild, suggesting that the notion of farmed beasts saving their free mates is as wild as the demand that fuels the killing.

Some affluent Indonesians, on the other hand, like their bears alive, be it as puppy-sized cubs (captured by shooting their mothers) frolicking in the backyard or full grown adults caged in filthy concrete cubes in which they can barely move. "You have no idea how cute a baby sun bear can be," quipped Wong. (Pictured bear cub adapted from the Wildlife Friends of Thailand)
But by far the greatest threat to the future of sun bears in Borneo is the sheer rate of deforestation that is taking place on the island. Malaysia, it seems, is a bigger culprit than its larger neighbour when it comes to clear-cutting its lumber resources without a thought of what will be left after every forest concession is used up. According to the UN FAO, Malaysia has lost 0.65% of its forest area every year since 2000 and Wong reckons that only 11.6% of the country consists of pristine forests, even though woodland officially covers 60% of the nation. Satellite maps of Sarawak and Sabah depict vast stretches of logged and cultivated lands that lie pale over sorry islets of primary growth. He also revealed that economic ingenuity is already finding a solution to scarcity, as timber markets are demanding not just traditional hardwood trees but also softwood and pioneer species that can be turned into chipboard and fibreboard. So the term "selective logging" may in fact mean choosing every usable sapling and leaving behind a forest with neither a canopy nor understorey.

Conservation priorities for sun bears therefore hinge upon an unwieldy blend of distribution mapping, ecological research, public outreach and logging practices that preserve forest elements essential to bear survival such as mature fig trees and decaying logs that harbour grubs and provide denning shelters. And in stark contrast to the international attention lavished on other charismatic megafauna, sun bears seem to have gotten a raw deal, if you could call it a deal at all. No latter-day Theodore Roosevelt looms over the horizon to cast a sympathetic light on the solar ursid. It may well be that the sun will continue to set on these small, chunky carnivores until the day they appear more frequently on pretty posters than in cooking pots.

More on sun bears:•
The Future of Asian Bears: Country Reports and Pictorial Summary by the Japan Bear Network
Sunbear Research & Conservation at the Land Empowerment Animals People website
Support Wong's sun bear research in Ulu Segama Malua Forest Reserve
Friend of Bears in The Star, 8 Aug 2006
• The Singapore Zoo is a supporter of Wong's research on sun bears and bearded bigs and will be opening a new exhibit for its existing sun bears soon.

Research papers:
• Wong Siew Te's M.Sc thesis, The Ecology of the Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) in the lowlandd tropical rainforest of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. M.Sc. thesis, The University of Montana, 2002
• Wong Siew Te et al. Food Habits of Malayan Sun Bears in Lowland Tropical Forests of Borneo. Ursus 13
• Wong Siew Te et al. Home range, movement and activity patterns, and bedding sites of Malayan sun bears Helarctos malayanus in the Rainforest of Borneo. Biological Conservation, 199 (2004).
• Wong Siew Te et al. Impacts of fruit production cycles on Malayan sun bears and bearded pigs in lowland tropical forest of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo (abstract). Journal of Tropical Ecology (2005), 21.
• Augeri, David M. On the Biogeographic Ecology of the Malayan Sun Bear. Ph.D. thesis, Darwin College, Cambridge University, June 2005. (Besides sun bears, the paper also shows many other camera trapped animals including the first wild photos of bay cats)
• Meijaard, E. Craniometric differences among Malayan sun bears (Ursus malayanus); evolutionary and taxonomic implications, in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 52 (2), 31 Dec 2004.
• G. M. Fredriksson. Predation on sun bears by reticulated python in East Kalimantan, Indonesian, Borneo, in the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 53 (1), 29 June 2005.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre


South-east Asia is home to the world’s smallest bear species, the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus). While Borneo is a remaining stronghold for this bear species, it is seriously threatened if not extinct in many areas of mainland Asia, including India, Bangladesh, China, Burma and Vietnam.

Unfortunately, sun bears continue to face significant threats throughout their range, including in Borneo. The main threat to their survival is forest degradation and destruction; however, sun bears also are hunted illegally for bear parts for foods and medicines (including gall bladders), to prevent damage to crops and villages, and to capture small cubs for pets. According to the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, the total sun bear population has declined by at least 30% in the last 30 years to slightly more than 10,000 animals (IUCN 2007). Judging from habitat loss, it is likely that sun bear populations are less than 25% of their historic levels 100 years ago (Servheen 1999). As a result, the Malayan sun bear is listed on Appendix I of CITES and it is illegal to kill or hunt these bears in Sabah (1997 Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment). In 2007, the World Conservation Union added the sun bear to its “vulnerable” classification on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2007).

Sadly, due to these threats, there currently known to be at least 30 sun bears living in captive situations just in the state of Sabah. These bears are living in highly unnatural conditions, many in small cages resembling dog runs with no access to the outdoors or natural surfaces, much less trees and forested areas. Most of them have no physical contact with other bears. A solution is desperately needed for these captive bears, most of which are still very young and thus may be rehabilitated and reintroduced into the forest. Not only would this benefit the captive bears, it would also help ensure the long-term diversity and viability of existing sun bear populations in Sabah.

To address this problem, this proposal will create a more appropriate facility to house captive and orphaned sun bears, as well as to provide a proper environment for rehabilitation of suitable bears for release back into the wild. Stage I of this project involves the construction of a new facility to house captive bears, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), located adjacent to the existing Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) and would contain several natural forest enclosures in the existing primary and secondary forest in this location. The BSBCC will provide a much more suitable home for existing captive bears, capacity for new orphans and confiscated animals, and the necessary habitat and environment for evaluating and rehabilitating suitable candidates for release. The proposed BSBCC also will provide public education and opportunities for further research on this species in Borneo. The Centre also will be able to draw on the experience of the neighboring SORC in caring for and rehabilitating orphaned animals to prepare them for life back in the wild.

Stage II of the project will involve identifying and setting up a forest release site for those captive bears that have been evaluated and found suitable for return to the wild. This will include surveys of existing forest areas to determine existing populations and carrying capacities as well as the protection status of potential release areas in Sabah. Once an appropriate site is identified, a small facility consisting mainly of forest enclosures will be constructed to allow for the short-term care of suitable animals during soft release back into the forest and to allow for post-release monitoring.
The primary goal of this project is to promote sun bear conservation in Borneo by providing an improved long-term living environment for captive bears that cannot be released, creating the capacity to rehabilitate and release suitable orphaned and ex-captive bears back into the wild, and educating the public and raising awareness about this species. The BSBCC will fulfill the following objectives: serve as a half-way house for confiscated/orphaned bears before release back into the wild; provide rehabilitation and training/survival skills for individual release; serve as a permanent home for confiscated/orphaned bears that cannot be put back into the wild; provide a humane, comfortable, and stimulating environment for captive sun bears over both the short- and long-term; provide a much-needed location for the care and housing of newly confiscated/rescued bears; assist the government in enforcement efforts by providing a place for confiscated animals and a program for successful reintroduction; present captive bears as wildlife ambassadors for Borneo and for conservation of wild sun bears and their habitat; provide a memorable visitor experience to promote awareness of sun bears and threats to their survival; promote tourism around Sepilok as well as wild areas in Borneo by raising awareness of a new charismatic flagship species; promote further research on sun bears, including behavior, captive breeding, reproduction and enrichment; and provide capacity building for further research and conservation of sun bears in the wild.
Please contact me to learn more how you can help this project and make a different for sun bear!

3/26/08

My personal statement



As I was wondering what should I write to make my blog more interesting, I dug out an old document-my personal statement, which I originally wrote in 1997 but revised in 2003. This statement was written for a scholarship application when I was still an undergraduate student in University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA. Unfortunately, I did not win the scholarship but the Dean of School of Forestry was very kind to write me a letter saying that my application has been declined due to high competitive, bla, bla, bla, etc. and encourage to apply again next time. I did, in 2002, and 2003. Because I like this statement a lot, especially the quote from Jane Goodall, I revised it and used it again. Guess what? I still did not awarded with a scholarship, not even a cheap one. As usual, the Dean wrote me back a letter to thank me for applying, but unfortunately, my application failed due to the same old stories. So I still have to get back to work in Chinese restaurants in Missoula and be a teaching assistant (if I am lucky) to earn money for paying bills, tuition fees, and raised a family. At the same time, I saw a Malay Malaysian student has his “everything” paid for by the Malaysian government to study in UM…….

Anyway, I thought of sharing this statement with you all.


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“Only if we understand, can we care.
Only if we care, will we help.
Only if we help, shall they be saved.”
--- Jane Goodall (1990)

Ever since I read this quote many years ago, I set up a lifelong goal for myself. This goal is to understand, to care, to help, and to save wildlife.

Since I was a first grader, “animal expert” was my ambition on the student record until the very last year in high school. Not surprisingly, my childhood was companioned by various kinds of pets. I became a successful pet breeder during my teenage. Studying abroad in Taiwan in 1989 was a turning point in my life. Although I was studying animal husbandry and veterinary, I had begun to appreciate wildlife even more when I was an active member in the student chapter of the Bird Watching Society. Through my binoculars, I learned to appreciate the beauty of wildlife, nature, and forest. Ironically, I also witnessed unlawful mist netting of wild birds, poaching of wildlife, illegal pet trades, and habitat degradation. I encountered my first orangutan being displayed to draw crowd at a local night market in Taiwan, and my first gibbon being cuddled by a motorist on a busy street. Both of these species are classify as “endangered,” protected by law, and originated from Malaysia.

Back home in Malaysia, the situation for wildlife did not get any batter. Vast tropical rainforests with extremely rich biodiversity were logged, cleared and converted to agriculture lands, monoculture plantations, and other human developments. Uncountable numbers of magnificent wildlife and plant species that were once inhabitants in these forests had disappeared due to deforestation. Many species became rare, endangered, and even extinct. Some cuddly species, such as baby orangutans and gibbons, were captured by poachers after killing its mother and sold to Taiwan as pets. The local Malaysian people care less because they are illiterate in conservation and environmental awareness. My passion and commitment to help wildlife multiplied as I witnessed this habitat degradation and wildlife species vanished from the forest. At the same time, I became even more aware of wildlife conservation issues through various wildlife research projects that I involved in Taiwan and Malaysia.

In 1994, I came to University of Montana to seek a dream that was considered as “difficult task” for many people from ordinary Asian family. The dream, which put me on a right track of my career, was to pursue a bachelor degree in Wildlife Biology. It took me more than four years to achieve the task because that dream has convinced me a higher education and knowledge is needed, if I wanted to be a successful “animal expert.” After nine years of majoring in wildlife biology and more than ten years involving in various wildlife researches and conservation activities, I have clearly identify my career goal as to become a distinguished wildlife biologist and educator who competently manage and conserve wildlife and other natural resources, especially in Southeast Asia where I came from. My most significant contribution to this field would be studying the ecology of Malayan sun bears (Helarcios malayanus) in a rainforest of Malaysian Borneo as a project for M.S. thesis. For the first time, the study revealed the mysterious life history of this little known bear and many ecological aspects of Bornean rainforest. The information gathered from this project has generated three scientific manuscripts either being published or to be publish in peer-review journals. Because of the conservation achievement from the project, I was appointed to co-chair the Sun Bear Expert Team for the Bear Specialist Group, IUCN/Species Survival Commission and International Association for Bear Research and Management.

My experience working in Southeast Asia shows desperate situation for the continuation of local forests. Much more work is needed to ensure the long-term survival of the native wildlife and forests. Thus, I plan to investigate the effects of logging and resource utilization of sun bears in rainforest of Borneo as my doctorate dissertation. The reasons for choosing to work on this topic are three fold: to study in detail the biology and status of sun bear that still remains poorly known and classify as “data deficient” by IUCN Red List of Threatened Species; to understand various ecological aspects and functions of rainforest that vulnerable to human activities; and to promote conservation awareness and environmental education of tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia. By studying an umbrella species and a top consumer in the rainforest ecosystem, I hope the knowledge gain from the study would improve resource management, wildlife conservation, and eventually, benefit local people, native wildlife, and other natural resources in Southeast Asian forests.

Today, wildlife conservation in Taiwan improves significantly because of the efforts from growing numbers of conservationists and awareness from the public. In many Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia and Philippine, the tropical forests are disappearing rapidly to a point where too late to do anything. In contrast, due to the economy and political stability, Malaysia still has a chance for conservationists to save the last stronghold of Southeast Asian rainforests and wildlife. We need distinguished biologists to train local students as conservationists and biologists, to educate public and government on the importance of conservation, and to study the flora and fauna in order to understand better its functions. I am and I was, trained as an “animal expert” or wildlife biologist for all these years. I hope to use these knowledge and training to do a great job in my career to conserve wildlife and forests. As a co-chair for the Sun Bear Expert Team, my duty is to ensure the long-term survival of Malayan sun bears and the forests they depend on throughout Southeast Asia. Perhaps the “they” in Jane Goodall’s quote denotes the chimpanzees in Gombe, Africa. To me, it denotes the wildlife in Malaysia.


Plight of the wild sun bears



On October 3, 2007, at 2:32 pm, three collage students from Germany who visited DanumValleyFieldCenter, Gunnar Boldhaus, Antje Schlaf, and Marcel Hoyer, saw a wild adult sun bear while they were walking on the newly constructed Kuala Tembaling hanging bridge. The new bridge is the second access that link to the from the east side of SegamaRiver to the Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA). The bear was sitting on a open sandy ground west beside of the SegamaRiver in the conservation area, and concentrated licking on its arm, without noticing the presence of the students. The students watched the bears quietly and took photos and videos of the bear from the middle of the bridge. About 5 minutes later, the bear seems to pick up some sense from the air, sniffing and then limping away slowly. When the bear change its posture, the students can clearly see the bear’s left arm has a rounded open wound and a rope imbedded, and about a foot long rope was dangling at the other end. The left shoulder of the bear seem awkward, a bit out of place. The bear left the place.


After examined the photos and video clips they took, it seem clearly that the bear has a fresh wound from a snare set by poacher. The material of the snare seem to made from nylon rope and snapped off when the bear was pulling hard trying to escape. The struggling to escape seem intense as the rope cut through the bear’s skin, wounded the arm, and dislocate the socket on the left arm and thus the limping and awkward shoulder. The bear has a black sleek coat but emaciated with protruding ribs, hip, and leg bones. I strongly believe that the bear will slowly died from unable to feed properly with the injured arm.


I would like to have your attention on several issues regarding this observation:



  • Danum Valley Conservation Area is a class one protected area in Sabah and has limited access to encroachers and poachers. This may not be the case anymore. It is obvious that poaching activities has happen inside the conservation area and authority should be alarm of such unfortunate events.

  • Seeing a sun bear in the wild is an extremely rare event, much more rarer than seeing an orangutan, Bornean pygmy elephant, Bornean gibbon, etc. Seeing and photographing a wild sun bear wounded by a poacher’s snare is thus a even more extreme rare event. It indicates that the poaching activities is at alarming rate and authority should take serious action to prevent poaching activities in the conservation area.

  • In general, poachers who set snares will set dozens if not hundreds of snares in their hunting trails to maximize harvest success. These hunting trails are death trails for most wildlife in the forest. The snare will snare and catch anything and everything that come into its way indiscriminately. Wildlife such as pheasants, civets, pangolins, mouse deer, sun bears, deers, pigs, elephants, and rhinos could be the victims. This observation provide unarguable evident that this sun bear was a victim of poachers. I believe that there are many victims that were undocumented.

  • The buffer zone of the DVCA is getting smaller and narrower at the southeastern and southwestern section as forest clearing for plantation project is ongoing. It will facilitate encroachment of poachers to conduct various illegal activities in the protected conservation area. The rate of encroachment will accelerate if no action has been taken to deter encroachers. It is not clear who were the poachers and where did they enter the conservation area and set snares to poach wildlife. Regular patrolling by qualified law enforcement personals and authorities are needed to safeguard the flora and fauna of the conservation area.

Please help us protect our wildlife and safeguard the Danum Valley Conservation Area.


video

Seventy-five percent of bear species threatened with extinction


Seventy-five percent of bear species threatened with extinction
12 November 2007 News - Press Release



Six out of the world’s eight species of bears are threatened with extinction, according to recent assessments by the IUCN Bear and Polar Bear Specialist Groups. Asia and South America are revealed as the areas most in need of urgent conservation action
The world’s smallest species of bear, the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), has been classed as Vulnerable, while the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) remains in the Endangered category on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The sun bear’s new status has been accepted for inclusion in the 2007 IUCN Red List. The sun bear lives in mainland Southeast Asia, Sumatra and Borneo and was previously listed as Data Deficient, meaning that not enough was known about the species to give it a status on the IUCN Red List.
Rob Steinmetz, co-chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group’s sun bear expert team, said: “Although we still have lot to learn about the biology and ecology of this species, we are quite certain that it is in trouble. We estimate that sun bears have declined by at least 30% over the past 30 years (three bear generations), and continue to decline at this rate.
“Deforestation has reduced both the area and quality of their habitat. Where habitat is now protected, commercial poaching remains a significant threat. We are working with governments, protected area managers, conservation groups and local people to prevent extinctions of the many small, isolated sun bear populations that remain in many parts of Southeast Asia.”
The only bear presently considered Endangered is the giant panda. That status remains unchanged despite enormous efforts in China directed towards its conservation, including the establishment of nearly 60 panda reserves, a ban on logging, and widespread reforestation programmes.
Dave Garshelis, co-chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, said: “Quite a bit is now known about the ecology of giant pandas and substantial work and expense has been aimed at trying to estimate total numbers of these animals. However, these estimates are imprecise and prone to significant error.
“Even though some people have claimed that panda populations are on the rise, we still consider them Endangered because too much uncertainty exists to justify changing their status to Vulnerable. It would be unwise to assume that in less than 10 years under the new habitat improvement policies in China that panda populations could have dramatically increased.”
Although hunting bears is illegal throughout Southern Asia, bears suffer heavy losses from poachers, who risk the small chance of being caught against lucrative gains from selling parts. Bile from the bear’s gall bladder is used in traditional Chinese medicine and their paws are consumed as a delicacy. Additionally, bears are often killed when they prey on livestock or raid agricultural crops. Bears simply roaming near a village may be killed because they are perceived as a threat to human safety.
Dave Garshelis said: “Although we do not have any reliable population estimates for the sun bear, or any of the other Asian bears for that matter, we fear that bears in Southeast Asia are declining at a particularly rapid rate due to extensive loss of forest habitat combined with rampant poaching.”
The Bear Specialist Group concluded a meeting in Monterrey, Mexico, on November 10 and has updated the status of the seven species of terrestrial bears.
Vulnerable species include Asiatic black bears and sloth bears, both inhabitants of Asia, and Andean bears (formerly called spectacled bears) from the Andes Mountains of South America.
Sloth bears live on the Indian subcontinent, where habitat loss has been severe. They have found sanctuary mainly in reserves set up to protect tigers. The IUCN Bear Specialist Group indicated that this species might have disappeared entirely from Bangladesh during the past decade.
Brown bears, the most widespread ursid, are not listed as threatened globally because large numbers still inhabit Russia, Canada, Alaska and some parts of Europe. Nevertheless, very small, isolated, and highly vulnerable populations exist in southern Europe and central and southern Asia. Several brown bear populations are protected under national or provincial laws. Grizzly bears – brown bears living in interior North America – are considered Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act outside of Alaska.
In 2006, the polar bear was listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Technically a marine mammal, the polar bear is distinct from the other seven terrestrial bears and has a different specialist group.
Among the eight species of bears, only the American black bear is secure throughout its range, which encompasses Canada, the United States and Mexico. At 900,000 strong, there are more than twice as many American black bears than all the other species of bears combined. They are legally hunted in most parts of their range.
Bruce McLellan, co-chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, said: “An enormous amount of effort and funding for conservation and management continue to be directed at bears in North America where their status is relatively favorable. It is unfortunate that so little is directed at bears in Asia and South America where the need is extreme. We are trying to change this situation but success is slow.”
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – Conservation status of the world’s bears
Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) – Endangered (EN)[Factsheet - PDF]
Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) – Vulnerable (VU)[Factsheet - PDF]
Asiatic Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus) – Vulnerable (VU)[Factsheet - PDF]
Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus) – Vulnerable (VU)[Factsheet - PDF]
Andean Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) – Vulnerable (VU)[Factsheet - PDF]
Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) – Vulnerable (VU)[Factsheet - PDF]
Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) – Least Concern (LC)[Factsheet - PDF]
American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) – Least Concern (LC)[Factsheet - PDF]

Sun Bears reclassified by IUCN as Vulnerable




The world’s smallest bear has been recently classified as vulnerable by the IUCN due to habitat loss and poaching. Co-chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, Dave Garshelis, states that "although we do not have any reliable population estimates for the sun bear, or any of the other Asian bears for that matter, we fear that bears in Southeast Asia are declining at a particularly rapid rate due to extensive loss of forest habitat combined with rampant poaching." The threats to the Sun Bear change according to its region. In Malaysia, Indonesia, Sumatra, and Borneo, Sun Bears are threatened mostly by habitat loss. Widespread deforestation is occurring due to the increasing production of palm oil for biofuels and other products. Illegal logging and forest fires are also common in these areas. In nations where deforestation is less of a problem, poaching is the main threat. Nations including Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam have long histories of illegal poaching of the Sun Bear for its gall bladder, used as a traditional Chinese medicine, and its paws which are considered a delicacy. The gall bladder is in such demand that it can fetch a price 18 times that of gold.

The Sun Bear can be recognized by more than its small size. On its chest the Sun Bear sports a large yellow marking which gives the bear its name. The bear also sports an extremely long tongue to gather honey, which is why it is also known as the honey bear. With the reclassification of the Sun Bear as vulnerable, the IUCN now lists six of eight bear species as threatened with extinction. The Giant Panda is listed as endangered, while the Asiatic Black Bear, Sloth Bear, Andean Bear, and Polar Bear are all considered vulnerable. Only the Brown Bear and American Black Bear are considered by the IUCN as ‘least concern’ species. The American Black Bear is by far the most populous. IUCN reports a population of 900,000, which it states is more than double the populations of all the other bear species added together.


Sun bears need help

As some of you may know, my sun bear and bearded pig research project that based in Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysia, has come to an end recently after three years of data collection in the field. I would like to thank all of you for your helps and supports in many ways, from talking to me in Danum, writing encourage emails and share your friendship when I was depressed, volunteering your time to help me in the field, spreading words about my works and cares for sun bears, and most importantly, providing generous funding to make all of my works possible. I don’t really know how to thank you except by saying big THANK YOU over and over again!

Over the last several years my life has been a challenging one. Beside having to fund raised for my research projects on sun bears, I also faced many challenges working in the field and trying to do the work right, keeping everyone in my team safe, being away from my family, and also learning more about the problems and identifying threats of sun bears, both in the wild and in captivities. I often visited places where I heard sun bear were held in captivities: zoo, mini zoos, crocodile farms, private menageries, and even private homes. They were all kept in small cages, unhygienic environment, and in some places were completely disgusting! Some were cubs, some were full grown adults, and some were old individuals. Almost all of them suffered from serious stereotypic behavior, pacing all day long if there were any room in their tiny cage for them to pace. Seeing these bears in these captive condition were completely heart broken. However, I choose to find them, see more of them, and learn more about the stories behind them.

Keeping sun bears as pets or for exhibits is illegal according to Malaysia’s wildlife laws. Wildlife authorities in theory should confiscate these animals and fine the owners from breaking the laws. However, these bear owners often get away from breaking the law due to weak law enforcement and lack of adequate facilities to house these bears. Some of the places where the wildlife authority keep these confiscated bears are not much better then private owners because lack of resources, funding, capacity and cares in this country. Sadly enough, there are no NGOs, nor any government bodies, willing to give extra hand to help these bears. This is the reason why I am writing this email to tell you our new plan to help these unfortunate, yet, magnificent animals call “sun bears”.

It is my dream to set up a well run sun bear rescue center with much better living condition and cares to helps these unfortunate captive bears. At the same time, the center also serves as a platform for the public to see, to learn and to be educated about sun bears and their habitats. In this center, the sun bears no longer be forgotten, mistreated, and suffered. Over the past two years, I have been working closely with LEAP (http://www.leapspiral.org/), an NGO base in Sabah, and Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) to set up a long-term sun bear conservation program- “Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Programme.” The first project under this program is to set up Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, or BSBCC. We are very thankful to have full support from Sabah Wildlife Department, and Sabah Forestry Department (SFD), where they agreed to provide facility and forested land next to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in Sandakan, Sabah, as the site to set up BSBCC. Beside providing adequate cares and housing, conservation, and education for sun bears, the long term goals for BSBCC is to train and to rehabilitate individual bears to return into the wild again where they truly belong.

No doubt that the idea of setting up BSBCC is good. I hope it is the time for me moving on into the next level: applying the knowledge I gained all these years from my researches to really help the sun bears and educate people about sun bears. However, the bigger challenge now is to find adequate fund to set up BSBCC. Many of you and your institutions have been generously provided funds for my sun bear research works in the past. I sincerely thank you for that. You made me what I am today and I will never forget that. Now I need your help again by donating fund, helping fund raising, or simply spreading the words about our plan to help sun bears. You can make personal donation at http://www.leapspiral.org/support/, or me (wongsiew@hotmail.com) on how you could help us. You can be an important part to help sun bears.

Not many people in the world have seen how sun bear live in the wild. I am one of very few people in the world who truly have the fortunate to observe them in the wild from my many years of field studies on wild bears in the rainforest of Borneo. On the other extreme, I also see many poor sun bears live in hell in captivities. These animals have their own dignity and rights to live in the wild where they truly belong. Human have no rights to keep them as pets or for amusement purposes. It is wrong to keep them in cages!

I personally envy conservation works done for orangutans, tigers, rhinos, pandas, and other charismatic species and conservation icons in the world, where supports and funds pouring from many parts of the world and many conservationist, biologists, and wildlife managers are working to study them and to save them from extinction. They all are essential and are doing the right thing for sure. When looking at sun bear, you can only see a bleak future, if nothing has been done, soon: Over the past few decades, sun bear habitat-tropical forest of Southeast Asia disappeared in an alarming rate, making their way for development and agriculture, especially oil palm plantations; sun bear being poached for body parts, meat, and medicine; desperate bears in hunger being killed as pest when then entered orchards and villages to find food; and finally cute bear cubs being capture as pets. The pathetic part is, there are only less than 5 people in the world who were working on the research and conservation of sun bear over the past decade. Until now, there are no conservation NGO working specifically for sun bear, sun bear is never a priority species for any country in SE Asia. There are 41,000 Borneo orangutans with many biologists, conservationists, and NGOs working to save orangutans from extinction. In contrast, sun bears numbered >10,000 in the world, but one or two conservation projects helping them. They are only being upgraded as “Vulnerable” species this year in the IUCN Red Book Listing. They are one of the forgotten large mammals. They are truly the forgotten bear! Over the past 10 years I tried to engage as much as possible to help them but yet my efforts were way from enough, and were way from making any significant improvement because of so few people involved to help.

Again, please help us, please help the sun bear by donating fund, helping fund raising, or simply spreading the words about our plan to help sun bears. You can make your personal donation at http://www.leapspiral.org/support/, contact me (wongsiew@hotmail.com) on how you could help us.

Welcome to my blog!

My first blog ever..
Today finally get the courage to start writing my blog. Three years ago I got no idae what blog is about.
Now I know.
I am using it now.
I am officially a blogger.
There are many voices in my heart, I want to speak out, I want people to know the voices in my heart..
What is right and what is wrong..
What have I saw as a animal lovers, wildlife biologist, naturalist and food connoisseur.
Please feel free to leave comments and tell me what you think..
Happy blogging..