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.

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