What is BSBCC?
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is the only sun bear conservation centre in the world. It was founded in Sabah, Malaysia in 2008 with two aims:
- to provide care and rehabilitation to rescued sun bears; and
- to increase awareness of sun bears internationally.
These aims work to ensure the absolute right of every bear to live in the forest.
|The little-known sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is the smallest bear species and the best tree climber. Their fondness for honey means they are sometimes named ‘honey bear’ or ‘beruang madu’ in Malay and Indonesian.
Once found throughout Asia , from India to Vietnam and China to Borneo, their numbers have decreased dramatically. Their main threats are deforestation, commercial hunting and the pet trade. They are often found in appalling conditions; without a home, a mother, or left to rot in tiny cages.
The mission of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is to rescue these sun bears and promote their conservation to return sun bears to the forest.
The mission of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sabah, Malaysia, is to promote sun bear conservation in Borneo through animal welfare, conservation, rehabilitation, education and research - giving captured sun bears a better home and restoring their right to live in the wild, by:
- Creating the capacity to confiscate, rehabilitate and release suitable orphaned and ex-captive bears back into the wild.
- Providing an improved long-term living environment for captive bears that cannot be released.
- Educating the public and raising awareness about this species.
- Achieving increased protection for sun bears and their habitat through ongoing research, increased knowledge and awareness, and further protection of habitat.
Within the larger goals outlined above, we want to fulfill the following specific 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 sun bear breeding patterns, social interactions, use of the forest, health and genetic status, behavior, captive breeding, rehabilitation and enrichment.
- Provide capacity building for further research and conservation of sun bears in the wild.
BSBCC's 4-Phase Structural Development
The structural development of BSBCC since we started operations in 2008 has been tremendous. The development of our facilities has created the capacity to improved living environment of rescued bears and increase awareness about sun bears among the public. Thanks to the help from our partners; Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Wildlife Department and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) for their continuous collaboration and support in helping us towards our achievements. Check out our 4-Phase development as follows:
Bear House 1 and Forest Enclosure 1
Funding for Phase 1 was secured in 2009 from the “Bear Necessities Fundraiser” organized by LEAP, along with matching funds from the Sabah State Government.
Construction of Bear House 1 & Forest Enclosure 1 was completed in March 2010. This has allowed 12 existing bears to move into their new living spaces, integrated into 'bear groups' and given access to outdoor enclosures during the day.
For the very first time, these bears can step onto soil ground, dig for grubs, climb, forage and rest in the trees within the natural forest enclosures.
Outside view of the newly completed Bear House 1
Bear House 2 & Refurbishment of Old Bear House into Offices, Visitor Centre & Quarantine Area
The BSBCC procured funding for Phase 3 in September 2010 from Sime Darby Foundation. This phase entails the refurbishment of the old bear house into offices, a visitor center and gift shop, and a quarantine area for up to 10 bears.
By end of 2013, construction of Phase 3 was completed and BSBCC was ready to open to the public in 2014. On the 16th January 2014, BSBCC launched its soft opening ceremony together with partners; Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Wildlife Department, Land Empowerment Animals People, family, friends and supporters. Since then, BSBCC was one of the tourist spots in Sandakan, particularly Sepilok alongside with the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Rainforest Discovery Centre.
At the same time, completion of Bear House 2 has added 16 individual dens for more rescued bears to move in. In 2014, a total of 8 bears arrived from the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, Kota Kinabalu, where they were temporarily housed during the previous year while Bear House 2 construction was in progress. Next is to secure enough funding for Forest Enclosure 2 in order to have more bears going out at one time.
Outside view of visitor centre building
Forest Enclosure 2 & Observation Platform 2
With continuous support from Sime Darby Foundation, funding for Phase 4 was secured in June 2014. Construction for fencing around 1.1ha of forest area and Observation Platform 2 are currently in progress and expected to be completed by end of 2015.
Welfare and rehabilitation
Welfare and rehabilitation of sun bears are the first two pillars upon which our work relies.
A better life
BSBCC is currently home to 36 rescued sun bears. Sun bears in the wild face many threats. All bears at our centre are orphaned and/or ex-captive bears, often found in unnatural conditions, with inadequate diets and no stimulation. We provide rescued sun bears with a better life.
Our large forest enclosures provide sun bears with their natural environment and diet.
At our centre in Sepilok-Kabili Forest Reserve, we reintroduce bears into their natural habitat and provide the largest forest enclosures of any sun bear centre. The care we provide is the closest a captive sun bear can come to life in the wild.
Our expert researchers and rehabilitators work with the bears to develop the skills necessary - foraging, climbing trees, nest building and self-defence - for independence in the forest. For cubs, our experts become surrogate mothers until the bears gain their independence. We constantly develop "enrichment activities" to improve welfare and encourage species specific behaviour.
Rehabilitation to the wild
Our centre is the only in the world that offers potential release candidates the chance to naturalise to forest life before they are released. Our research and rehabilitators closely monitor each bear and identify potential release candidates and work to develop their skills and encourage their independence.
Sadly, sometimes our bears are too traumatised for release to be possible, for these bears BSBCC provides a dignified permanent home.
Steps towards rehabilitation
When a bear arrives
All bears that arrive at the centre are given a thorough health check by our vets. Individual characteristics are recorded.
Government conservation actions
According to the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, the total sun bear population has declined by at least 30% in the last 30 years (IUCN 2007).
Killing of sun bears is strictly prohibited under national wildlife protection laws in South East Asia. However, little enforcement of these laws occurs and conservation measures and priorities vary by country, None of the range countries have established specific conservation measures for sun bears.
The sun bear has been listed on CITES Appendix I since 1979 (CITES aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild) and it is illegal to kill or hunt these bears in Sabah based on the 1997 Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment. Moreover, in 2007, the World Conservation Union added the sun bear to its “vulnerable” classification on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2007).
The sun bear still remains the least know about bear in the world. Many people know about polar bears, grizzly bears, American black bears and giant pandas through the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, National Geographic Channel, movies, advertisements, news articles and new media. A small proportion of people know Andean and spectacle bears from South America, sloth bears from India, and Asiatic black bears from Asia. However, only very few people know about sun bears. This is a sad fact.
One of the biggest reasons for this is the susbstantial lack of biological studies on this species. Currently, there are only three ecological studies in the world involving trapping and radio-collaring a wild sun bear. One of them is by Wong Te Siew, founder and chief executive of BSBCC. Further details of that can be found on the Research page of this website.
Reduce forest loss, poaching and bear parts
General measures to reduce forest loss and poaching would help conserve the species. The most beneficial conservation measure in Indonesia and Malaysia would be protection of remaining forests from conversion to other land-uses, eliminating unsustainable logging practices, and prevention of forest fires. Establishment of new and effectively managed protected areas in Indonesia and Malaysia should be promoted in order to preempt land conversion. Reducing the trade in bear parts would be highly beneficial for the survival of the species in mainland Southeast Asia.
Much more work is needed to ensure the long-term survival of the native wildlife and forests. In many parts of Southeast Asia, the tropical forests are disappearing rapidly to a point where too late to do anything. In contrast, due to the economy and political stability, Malaysia still has a chance for conservationists to save the last stronghold of Southeast Asian rainforests and wildlife.
Sun Bear Recovery Zones
Given available resources, the patrolling and monitoring of entire protected areas is currently an overwhelming task.
To make this problem more manageable, a network of small bear recovery zones (100–200 km²) could be established within key protected areas. The patrolling efforts of rangers could then be focused on these zones. Recovery zones should be locations with plentiful bear foods such as trees from the families Lauraceae, Moraceae, Burseraceae, Myrtaceae and Fagaceae. Such zones would provide a biologically meaningful, geographically focused, and logistically realistic way for the efforts of protected area staff to be translated into population recovery for bears (and other wildlife species).
Recently, the Bear Specialist Group mapped the current, range-wide distribution of sun bears. Important habitat blocks for long-term survival of sun bears were identified (Bear Conservation Units-BCUs). Anti-poaching efforts within these BCUs should be a high priority. Trends in bear occurrence and relative abundance within BCUs could be monitored using standardized sign surveys and camera trapping. Results of such monitoring could indicate which management or ecological conditions promote successful bear conservation, and which do not, and provide a means to assess the results of conservation efforts (e.g., future range expansion and/or increased bear density being indicative of effective conservation efforts). Additional field studies also would be helpful in this regard; few intensive studies have been conducted on this species.
Training local students as conservationists and biologists
We need distinguished biologists to train local students as conservationists and biologists, to educate public and government on the importance of conservation, and to study the flora and fauna in order to understand better its functions. I am and I was, trained as an “animal expert” or wildlife biologist for all these years. I hope to use these knowledge and training to do a great job in my career to conserve wildlife and forests.