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.
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.
“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.
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.”