Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sabah: A Sanctuary for Sun Bears

This entry is in the nature of a commercial.  I have spent the bulk of my professional life trying to do something -- usually by lobbying at International meetings -- about the immense and extremely damaging trade in wildlife.  Most of this blog concerns my leisure hours, or at least that part of them I get to spend watching wildlife in the wild.  Every once in a while, though, I get to rub shoulders with people trying to help wild animals on the ground.

A few weeks before our visit to Sabah, while we were in Kuala Lumpur, I discovered  that Siew Te Wong, the brother-in-law of  Eileen's old classmate -- our host in the city -- had just opened a sanctuary for Borneo's only bear, the Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus), on land at Sepilok.  You can read about it -- and find out how to help the bears - here.

Wong was not in Malaysia at the time, but in the United States completing his doctorate.  In the days of Skype, of course, this is not a problem, and Wong and I were soon having a computer-to-computer chitchat.  Part of the upshot was an invitation to visit the sanctuary.

Wai Pak Ng, Project Manager of the centre, kindly showed Eileen and me around. 

The centre was started in 2008, but with limited resources and facilities.  Shortly before our visit it had moved into state-of-the-art new quarters at Sepilok with the help of the Sabah Wildlife Department.  They looked pretty impressive to me.

There are lots of articles and stories about the centre on its site, and if you are interested in the details you should check them out.  But I can say that places like this are necessary and valuable, however stark they may look in photos - and not just because they may save the lives of individual injured, confiscated or abandoned animals.

Illegal trade in wild animals is an immense problem , particularly for increasingly rare species like the sun bear, in high demand as luxury food items or to supply the traditional medicine market. Law enforcement officials faced with the prospect of dealing, not with an inert piece of contraband, but with a living, kicking and possibly dangerous animal - and a sun bear would certainly come in that category - need help in everything from training for their own safety to housing and caring for their new and potentially frightening charges.  A suitable rescue centre, staffed by experts and recognized by the government, can make all the difference between confident law enforcement and a quite reasonable urge to look the other way.  That, in many circumstances, can make a huge difference for conservation.

So, thanks to Wong and Wai, and Good Luck to the BSBCC!

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