One of the highlights of our trip to Malaysia was to visit the Borneo Sun Bear conservation centre (BSBCC) in Sepilok, as it is very famous for its sole and humble mission of rescuing and rehabilitating the world’s smallest bears: The sun Bears.
As animal lovers and actual human beings, we are against any kind of animal abuse and would hate going to a place only to see enclosed animals that lost their freedom just for the purpose of selfish human entertainment. I admit that we didn’t know what to expect from that visit but let’s just say that we weren’t disappointed…
Sun Bears 101
The sun bear is a small nocturnal bear that has a brownish-black coat with a coloured mark on the chest, like a fingerprint each bear has his own patch; they are natives to Southeast Asia.
Sadly enough, these bears are classified as vulnerable and on the way of becoming endangered.
Let’s get to know them
Honey bears: Remember Winnie the pooh and his honeycomb? These adorable creatures are similar as they love honey and it’s one of their essential food elements.
Sleep is for the weak: Sun bears do not hibernate in the contrary to other bears.
Looks can be deceiving: Despite the cute look, they are very fierce animals when surprised in the forest. So if you happen to encounter one in the jungles, RUN!
Smallest member of the bear family: Sun bears are indeed the smallest of all bears with a weight ranging between 20-70 kg and height between 120-150 cm.
Sun bears are omnivores: they feed on honey, bees, beehives, termites, ants, beetle larvae, bee larvae and fruits.
Crucial for our eco-system: As we all know every creature on earth is crucial for our eco system and helps in maintaining the planet, the sun bears have many qualities holding different professions.
- Farmers: they dig for invertebrates in the soil, during the process of searching for food. The digging enhances the forest’s nutrient cycle through the mixing of rich and poor soil.
- Engineers: Food being the main incentive, they create nesting sites for animals such as hornbills and flying squirrels, by tearing open tree trunks to reach the honey inside.
- Doctors: they keep termite populations down, since it’s one of their favourite meals, helping tropical tree species.
- Planters: They help disperse seeds, due to all the digging and climbing they exercise, so there role is essential in seeding plants and fruits.
Sad fact: they’re classified as vulnerable and on the way of being endangered
This happened because of many threats basically all caused by the selfish non-considerate human race. Here are the main reasons:
Habitat loss: Malaysia is know for it’s large palm oil production, were lands are being uncontrollably sold in order to ensure the plantation development, leading to unsustainable or illegal logging or human-caused fires. This is making the Sun bears along with many other animals such as the Orangutans loose their habitat and their families.
Commercial hunting: Sun bears are hunted for their gall bladders, which are believed in the Chinese tradition to be used for curing disease and long life. The bile is extracted while the animal is still alive, leading to death after a few days. It is ILLEGAL to kill sun bears, yet it is still done proving the cruelty and selfishness of the human kind.
Pet trade: Being the smallest bear, sun bear cubs are extremely cute and adorable looking hence making them prone to human’s ignorance. Usually the mother is killed and the baby is taken at a very early age and put in a cage condemned to live a life of slavery and enclosure.
“Wild animals belong into the wild, no matter how cute and adorable they are. Do not ever try to domesticate a wild animal. It is pure cruelty!”
Why you should visit?
#1 To understand how proper conservation initiatives function
The Borneo sun bear conservation centre also known for BSBCC is a rehabilitation and rescue centre whose sole mission is to rescue the abused, enclosed, orphaned sun bears and rehabilitate them to get released into the wild.
Going there was a complete delight, a heartwarming and enriching experience that gives you faith in the human race again. The rangers and guides are doing an awesome job and they shared with us all the sad stories of the rescued bears and the process of rehabilitation before setting them back in the wild.
The sun bears are living in the woods, not confined or caged. They are fed once per day on random hours so they can learn to hunt the rest of the day.
You can silently watch the bears from a spotting area built in the middle of the forest and from which you can witness their day-to-day activities: climbing trees, eating, and sleeping…
No body is allowed to touch the bears as it will get them accustomed to human contact and make them socialized which can revert back on them: Bears would want to approach people and get killed by hunters in the process.
Humans raised Fulang in a cage since he was very small. He got used to human interaction, which resulted in a complete refusal of his true nature. He was struggling to fit in with the other bears to the extent of hurting himself on purpose in order to get human attention. For the first 3 months, it was impossible for him to step out of his cage, even to eat. But thanks to the centre’s efforts, his situation improved tremendously. He still finds time to pose on the tree branches whenever he sees humans but at least he now knows that he’s a bear!
#2 To support, contribute and witness
By visiting the centre you will be:
- Contributing for the NGO so they can go on with their mission in rescuing and rehabilitating the bears. It’s for a good cause and the people are clearly putting their hearts into it!
- Seeing the adorable sun bears in their normal habitat. If you love animals and are interested in watching the behaviour of these animals this is your only chance of getting that close with them.
We actually went for 2 consecutive days. We failed to see any bear on the first day since they all sleep during the afternoon. But on the second day we made it to the centre even before it opened its gates and the guides start their shift. We got to witness many of the Sun Bears in their morning rituals: Climbing up trees, roaming around looking for fruits and insects to feed upon, even posing for us to get some awesome shots (Fulang again)
As travellers it is our duty to encourage responsible traveling and tourism. So our advise for you is to always check where you are going beforehand and don’t get too excited to see an animal outside of his normal habitat. Be sure that he will never be happy and he is being abused. Don’t blindly trust the beautiful pictures you see online, dig deeper. Be aware.
Traveling in Asia comes with many opportunities of seeing wild animals. Just don’t take part in the abuse. Abuse doesn’t have to be only physical. If the animals are confined, being obliged to do things, taking people for rides, enclosed, living outside of their habitat, chained… then it’s abuse, psychological one that is. Refuse to be part of it. Be responsible!
Getting there: Take the small van or the Bus from Sandakan City Center to Sepilok. Beware, contrary to the small van, the bus only stops at the main road, you’ll have to walk or take a taxi for 1.5km more.
Entrance Fee: 30MR – 8$/person.
Volunteering opportunity: check the volunteering program here .
Neighbouring activities: Visit the Orangutan conservation centre and the Rainforest Discovery centre.