This summer, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) in Sabah, Malaysia, will release an endangered sun bear back into the wild for the second time in history. Natural Habitat Adventures is proud to help support this pioneering conversation organization and its ongoing work to reintroduce rehabilitated sun bears back into their jungle home.
Sun bears, the smallest of the world’s eight bear species, are arboreal mammals native to the rain forests of Southeast Asia. Equipped with seven-inch claws, these skilled climbers forage for food high in the forest canopy, using their 18-inch tongues to grab fruits, insects and honey. Each sun bear has a unique gold-colored patch of fur on its chest — no two bears have the same fur pattern. The horseshoe shape of the fur patch often resembles a rising or setting sun, which is what gives the sun bears their name.
Once widespread across Southeast Asia’s tropical lowland forests, sun bears have disappeared from most of their former range in recent decades and are now the second-rarest bear species on Earth. Threats such as deforestation of sun bears’ forest habitat, poaching, and the illegal pet trade have contributed to an accelerated population decline, and sun bears are now found only on the island of Borneo. Despite these dramatic losses, few people are aware that sun bears exist, and even fewer know that sun bears are in danger of extinction.
To help preserve this critically endangered animal, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center saves sun bears that are orphaned or rescued from the illegal pet trade and rehabilitates the sun bears in large, semi-wild forest enclosures. Once a sun bear has fully regained its natural instincts, the conservation center releases the sun bear back into the Bornean wilderness.
Wong Siew Te is the founder of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center and the world’s first sun bear biologist. Wong has made it his life’s work to protect sun bears and, with the help of his devoted local staff, conducts pioneering sun bear research in Borneo’s Danum Valley, one of the last remaining habitats for wild sun bears.
Natural Habitat Adventures Expedition Leader and Borneo guide Brad Josephs is a conservation champion for sun bears and a strong supporter of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center. In April 2016, Brad volunteered to help clean the sun bear houses, prepare and disperse meals for the sun bears, collect treats (such as fresh leaves and insects) from the surrounding jungle, take pictures of the sun bears for the BSBCC to use, and set up a BSBCC Instagram account to promote increased international awareness about the plight of the sun bear.
Years ago, Wong Siew Te’s team rescued an orphaned female cub and brought her to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center for rehabilitation. Today, nine-year-old Lawa is an excellent tree climber, builds tree nests to sleep in, forages for her own food, and avoids contact with humans, all of which are crucial behaviors for a wild sun bears’ survival. Although Lawa had been a candidate for release for a year, the BSBCC’s biologists did not have the $13,000 in funding they needed to successfully reintroduce Lawa into the wild.
Determined to help Lawa get back into her wild habitat this year, Brad Josephs set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the BSBCC and notified Natural Habitat Adventures of the fundraising effort. Inspired by this groundbreaking wildlife conservation project, Nat Hab lent our support by contributing $5,000 to help release Lawa into a remote region of the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, Malaysia.
Within three weeks, about 40 generous donors had contributed the remaining $8,000 necessary to charter helicopters to transport Lawa and the BSBCC biologists to the safe wilderness area, and to pay for the radio collar tracking equipment needed to track Lawa after her release.
The BSBCC’s hope is that Lawa will can help increase Borneo’s wild sun bear population by breeding with male sun bears in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Monitoring and documenting Lawa’s status after her release will also help the biologists learn more about how rehabilitated sun bears readjust to the wilderness.
Thanks to the incredible dedication of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center, Wong Siew Te, Brad Josephs, and the other campaign donors, Lawa the sun bear will soon be roaming wild and free in the wilds of Borneo.
All photos © Brad Josephs.