Educational Trip to Balikpapan, Indonesia

Date: April 15th 2015

Text: Risnayati Lammu
Photo: Gloria Ganang & Risnayati Lammu

Welcome to Kawasan Wisata Pendidikan Lingkungan Hidup (KWPLH).

Balikpapan: Ku Jaga, Ku Bela, Ku Pelihara“, that is the motto of Balikpapan we saw when we arrived at the city on 3rd April 2015. Balikpapan is located on the east coast of the island of Borneo, in the province of east Kalimantan, Indonesia. Kalimantan is one of the biological hotspots where you can find many endemic species of Borneo, like the orang-utan and Bornean sun bear. In 1997, Gabriella Fredriksson is a researcher who studied sun bears and forest conservation programme in Sungai Wain Protection Forest, Balikpapan. From her research, interest and local media attention on sun bears has been aroused. With the collaboration of local government and NGO’s, sun bear has been the mascot for Balikpapan since 2002. With the main goal to visit the sun bear centre and to learn its operation especially in terms of educational aspect, me and Gloria Ganang (BSBCC’s education team) were eager to meet the centre’s staff the next day.

Gloria with a big sun bear statue at the entrance gate.

Woke up early morning, we took a taxi to our destination. Kawasan Wisata Pendidikan Lingkungan Hidup (KWPLH) also known as Environmental Education and Recreation Facility/ Sun Bear Centre is a facility located 23km from Balikpapan town. Upon arrival, we headed to their main office and received a warm welcomed by Ibu Yati. Then, we walked together to the entrance gate of sun bear enclosure where we met with Ibu Eka. Ibu Yati told us that early morning before the enclosure is open to the public, two staffs goes into the enclosure to scatter and hide food and special treats for the sun bears. The sun bear enclosure is approximately 1.3 hectares, which is almost the same size with BSBCC’s current forest enclosure, surrounded by electric and chain-linked fences.

Visitors can observe the sun bears from the access boardwalk.

After giving a morning briefing to some local students, Ibu Eka invited us for a tour around the sun bear enclosure. As we walked, Ibu Eka started her detail briefing on the sun bear enclosure and introduced us their sun bears which could be seen from the boardwalk area. There were a few bears that explored the enclosure, climbed, dug and sniffed around while searching for their tasty treat. I could remember one bear called Bennie, a chubby male bear with a wrinkled forehead, but he has no claws or canine teeth (probably removed by his previous owner). Currently, KWPLH is housing a total of seven sun bears which can never be released back into the wild, all of them were kept illegally as pet previously. The forest enclosure is filled with many trees and planted fruiting trees for the bears to climb up, rest and sunbath. As we came to the small viewing platform, there were a few younger staffs ready to assist visitor by providing sun bears information and to warn the visitor they shouldn’t make loud noises and disturb the bears. This sun bear enclosure has mutual benefits to both bears and visitors as the bears can freely explore their natural habitat while the visitors can have an understanding of bear behaviours and their forest habitat rather than seeing these lovely animals in captive.

One male sun bear found mix fruit that scattered around the area of forest enclosure.

Using his sense of smell, the male bear looks busy searching for food.

Besides the sun bear enclosure, KWPLH also provides Sun Bear Education Exhibit for the visitors to learn more about sun bears and the other bear species in the world. For me, this large, beautiful and semi-open exhibit was really informative as there were numerous educational displays in the form of interaction, statues, printed materials and paintings. The physical characteristics of the bear species, behaviours, ecology, feeding pattern and the conservation efforts were described on each section. The ways how they decorated the education display and presented to the public was brilliant to attract the visitors attention. Ibu Eka also informed us that most of the education displays are designed in a playful and interactive manner so that the visitors especially the kids can easily learn about the sun bears.

Ibu Eka (right) shares with Gloria (left) about the education programme that KWPLH organized in the past few years.

Open the small square board and you will know the physical characteristic of a sun bear.

From our conversation, Ibu Eka told us that they manage to go to more than 150 schools for the period of six months. What an amazing job they had done! At first, they went to school to introduce the school kids about the sun bears and give them an idea on animal welfare. After that, they would go to the same school again after a few weeks’ time to do refreshment so that the kids will not forget about what they have learnt from the talk given by the KWPLH staffs. As we walked further in, we reached another exhibit which is the Endemic Flora and Fauna of Borneo Exhibit. With the same design of education display, here we saw five main sections: Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish and Endemic Plants. KWPLH truly provides the best educational facility for the visitors to learn more not only about sun bears but also the biodiversity of Borneo.

Sun Bear Education Exhibit: Ecology section

Snake is one of the predators that that kills the sun bears in the wild.

Ibu Eka also guided us to the other exhibit: Domestic Animals Exhibit that houses three to five cats, with the objective to educate people about the difference between domestic animals and wildlife and tell them what animals are suitable as pets. Moreover, visitors can also adopt the young cat as all the cats here have been nurtured, vaccinated and have received fleas treatment. When we arrived at the main office, we met with another officer and he gave us lots of information about KWPLH’s operation while looking through their site plan. KWPLH primarily receives funding for management and running costs from the local government through Environmental Department in Balikpapan. Besides that, various other private and corporate organizations have also helped this centre through its development.

Ibu Eka (left), Gloria (middle) and another KWPLH’s officer (right) taking a group photo.

After spending more than five hours exploring KWPLH centre, finally it is time to say goodbye to the staff here. We really appreciate every single moment spent with the staffs. They were all very keen in sharing information and showing us around especially Ibu Eka. We learned many things here and we are happy that finally we managed to reach here after a long planning time. A big thank you to our CEO and Founder, Mr. Wong Siew Te for giving us the opportunity to visit this sun bear centre and the San Diego Zoo who has sponsored our trip. As we leave this centre, we saw many locals gathering together especially families with kids, having a picnic in the small gazebo, while the other school kids playing around in the lamin (longhouse style building). We will surely come here again in the future and hope that KWPLH will continue in their effort to educate the local people and raise awareness of the sun bear conservation and their habitat.

Mascot of Balikpapan: The Sun Bear!

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