Boost for sun bear conservation

Date: April 10th 2013


KUALA LUMPUR:  Thanks to support from Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD), the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sepilok, Sabah, has been able to continue rescuing sun bears which have been kept as pets and caring for them with the hope of releasing them back into the wild in the future.

ve-year-old Kuamut walking on a fallen tree in the forest enclosure of BSBCC. The female, named after the town she was found in, was rescued in January 2009. She was found kept as a pet in a small iron-cage with two heavy metal chains with a brass lock weighing more than 2kg holding her down. 

In 2012, YSD allocated RM2.1 million for the BSBCC.

A major chunk of the funding is being used to renovate an existing bear house and to construct a second bear house where the rescued sun bears will be relocated.

YSD’s sponsorship also includes the construction of a visitor information centre and opening the BSBCC to the public, which would provide financial sustenance to the BSBCC.

Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) are the smallest and least known members of the bear family and their population is rapidly diminishing in Southeast Asia.

But despite being a protected species, sun bears are killed for their body parts which are consumed for medicinal purposes while the cubs end up as pets.

Over the years, this practice has tragically depleted the sun bear population.
BSBCC is a non-profit organisation initiated by the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD), Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and a non-government organisation, Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), in 2008 to look into the plight of captive and orphaned sun bears in Sabah and to promote conservation efforts.

YSD governing council member Caroline Christine Russell said the foundation’s sponsorship would help rescued sun bears to recuperate and be rehabilitated in a safe and protected environment.

“When sun bears are kept and treated as pets, they grow into adulthood without learning the necessary skills to survive in the wild. YSD is highly supportive of BSBCC’s mission to rescue captured sun bears and promote sun bear conservation in Borneo. This will halt cruelty to these animals including the killing of sun bears for their supposed medicinal value and keeping their offspring as pets,” she said.

BSBCC chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said the process of catching a sun bear cub involved killing its mother.

“If the law allows sun bears to be kept as pets, it will only fuel demand which would lead to more poaching of sun bears,” he said.

The Malayan sun bear has been classified as “vulnerable” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Book Listing of Endangered Species since 2007 due to its dwindling population over the past 30 years.

Sun bears do not breed well in captivity and due to their naturally slow reproductive rate, a female sun bear may only have up to three to four cubs in her lifetime.

Thus, excessive hunting or capturing of cubs can easily wipe out the local population.

It is illegal to kill or hunt these bears under the 1997 Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment and those found guilty of rearing or possessing protected species such as the Malayan sun bear could face a mandatory jail term of between one month and a year. For more information on what BSBCC does and how the public can help with the sun bear’s conservation efforts, visit http://www.bsbcc.org.my.

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