Conservation of Sun Bears

This information was gathered and published by MESYM from this source.

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 as a two-stage effort to provide the care, rehabilitation and release of orphaned and captive sun bears, as well as address the lack of knowledge and awareness of this little-known bear both in Malaysia and internationally. At present, we are not open to the public, but we do hope to be open to visitors by 2013.

Up until April 2010, there were 12 confiscated young bears living in cramped indoor quarters on the BSBCC site. As the situation for these captive bears was pressing, funding and construction of the BSBCC began to move these bears into more appropriate living environments.

The construction was divided into three development phases (as outlined here) to achieve two bear house blocks and eight fenced forest enclosures for the capacity for 50 bears, quarantine facilities, offices, a visitor centre and viewing platform, and a system of forest boardwalks. We are dependent on donated funds for the development and although we are almost half way through, we still have a long way to go. If you’d like to help us, you can find out more information here.

Here is a video from National Geographic that will give you a better picture of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
[jwplayer mediaid=”13550″]

Rescue & Rehabilitation

There are currently 26 rescued bears living at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre which has 2 bear houses and a number of forest enclosures. Sadly, many of these have already spent too many years locked up in cages. Their distress and suffering is clear through stress related behaviours such as obsessive cleaning and pacing back and forth. Unfortunately for some of our bears release is not an option, as some are to mentally or physically traumatised by their past experiences to survive in the wild. But we aim to give them a better life at the BSBCC, restoring their absolute right to live in the forest. Each day we see newly rescued bears looking happier and more relaxed which is immensely satisfying.

Once a bear arrives at the Centre, he/she undergoes a thorough health check. The bear is sedated and blood samples are taken for analysis to check that the bear is not carrying any contagious parasites or dangerous diseases. While the bear is sedated it also gives staff the opportunity to check the weight and height, as well as the general condition of the teeth, eyes, ears and claws. Photos are taken of the paws and other distinguishing features, including the marking on their lower neck to store in each bear’s personal files. Once all the checks have been carried out, the bear is put back into the quarantine cage to wake up. It will stay in this cage until the blood results come back, which is normally around a month later.

Once out of quarantine, the bear will be transfered to an indoor enclosure near other bears to get used to the sight, smell and sound of others before being introduced. Younger bears are easier to introduce to other youngsters as they are more focused on play. Older female bears are harder to mix as introductions can be dangerous and older males cannot be mixed at all as it almost always leads to fights resulting in very serious injuries.

Before a bear can go into the outside enclosure, they must first be put into the ‘training pen’ to learn to avoid electric fences. This stage is very important, as our outside enclosures are surrounded by electric fences to prevent bears from escaping as they are exceptional climbers. The voltage inside the training pen is ever so slightly higher then the outside enclosures to make sure they never touch the fences. The shock is very light as any keeper will tell you, as they routinely get shocked whilst carrying out their daily checks on the fences! Only one bear is trained at a time and they will only be in the cage for half an hour to an hour each day. Over a couple of days bears gradually learn to stay away from the electric fence, once the keepers are sure they have learnt, they can released to the outside enclosure.

Release

Our ultimate goal at the BSBCC is to release ex-captive Sun Bears back to the wild. This takes a lot more research and consideration then many may think. Firstly a potential release site has to be found. You cannot just find a patch of forest and release a bear. There are many questions about that piece of forest that must be answered first. Questions such as, is there already a wild population of Sun Bears on the same piece of land? Are you thinking of releasing male bears into another male’s territory? How will it affect other forest residents? Can the forest support an influx of Sun Bears or is the ecosystem too delicate to cope? Will there be enough food? What are the potential human factors; villages nearby, logging, poaching?

All of these questions have to be researched before the centre can even consider releasing a bear. If the bear is released, it needs to be collared and monitored to assess whether the release was a success, which costs a considerable amount of money. Once GPS collar alone can cost $3000 US dollars.

Currently, the BSBCC is trying to raise the money to fund researchers to carry out this vital fieldwork.

Education

The BSBCC aims to provide public education and awareness programs, as well as opportunities and support for further research on the Sun Bear species in Borneo. Significantly, the Centre will be able to draw on the experience and resources of the neighboring Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre who care for and rehabilitate orphaned orangutans, preparing them for life back in the wild. The Centre will also utilize SOURC’s existing veterinary facilities and staff, as well as parking areas and ticket gates.

Our new visitors centre will be completed in the next few months, which the BSBCC hopes to use to educate guests, young and old, about the Sun Bear and its characteristics. We also hope to have fun and interactive information points that not only talk about the bears, but also give an indication of the other wildlife and tree species that you might be able to spot whilst at the centre. For us, education is the future and spreading the word about conservation of the bornean forest will help preserve species for generations to come.

Conservation 

Animal Welfare

At the BSBCC, we always put the animal’s welfare first by trying to provide the best nutrition, enrichment, medical treatment and environmental stimulation to help the bears live as full and healthy life as possible. For those bears who cannot be released, we aim to make their physical surroundings as close to their natural environment as possible, mainly by using natural materials like leaf litter, branches and soils. We regularly provide enrichment such as different objects, toys, food and smells to stimulate all of their senses and to try to get them to engage with their own natural instincts and encourage behavioral characteristics. As the centre grows, we hope to continue to try and improve their lives through enrichment and inovative cage design to make sure the bear’s needs are constantly and consistently being met.

Supporting the local Bornean community

The BSBCC engages in local capacity building by hiring and training local staff as animal keepers, education staff and research assistants for various research projects at the Centre.

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