SANDAKAN: Habitat loss and poaching have led to a decline of up to 30 per cent of the Malayan sun bear population in the last three decades, according to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).
In Borneo, this smallest of the world’s eight bear species is also seeing a drop in numbers following their illegal capture for the pet trade and when they are wrongly perceived as pests and gunned down, said BSBCC founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te.
The Polar Bear, Brown Bear, American Black Bear, Spectacled Bear, Sloth Bear, Giant Panda and Asiatic Black Bear are other better known bear species.
Found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra in Indonesia and Borneo, the exact number of sun bears in the wild is unknown, making it even more pressing toreduce pressure on a species that is classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN(International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, and at risk of becoming endangered unless circumstances threatening their survival improve.
Sun bears are also classified as a totally protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, providing it the same status as the Orang Utan and the Sumatran Rhinoceros.
Wong said the sun bear was divided into two sub-species – the Helarctosmalayanus malayanus and the Helarctos malayanus euryspilus, with the latter, smaller bear found only in Borneo.
“In other words, sun bears in Borneo are even smaller than the sun bears found in other parts of Malaysia and the region.
We hope to share with more locals how fortunate we are that such a unique bear is found here in Borneo, and right here in Sabah," he said in a statement.
He said the shrinking forest cover made poaching and capturing of wild bear seasier due to increased contact with human settlements.
“Our centre is now holding 28 rescued bears. Some were illegally kept as pets and others were trapped in the forest, and sent here.
“Bears here are trained to adapt to the forest within an enclosed area as some have never been in the wild, having been kept as pets from a young age. They are then evaluated to see if they can be released into the wild,” he said.
The centre is located adjacent to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, here.
"In Borneo, sun bears continue to face threat from habitat destruction and poaching. We need to protect the remaining forest cover if we are to secure the future of the sun bears and, at the same time, eliminate any poaching of these bears in the wild," Wong said.
He said awareness activities would be stepped up once the centre was officially opened to the public, tentatively by early next year.