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.