SANDAKAN: Two rescued Malayan sun bears were released at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, near Lahad Datu on March 7 by a team from the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).
The adult female sun bears, given the names of Damai and Debbie, were originally surrendered by their owners who kept them as pets, to the Sabah Wildlife Department.
When the status of Malayan sun bear was upgraded to totally protected species in 1997, several people who kept sun bears as pets were allowed to retain the sun bears for a few years after the upgrade until the Sabah Wildlife Department was ready to take them.
Over the past few years, the surrendered sun bears have been rehabilitated back into the forest at BSBCC, learning important skills like climbing, digging and finding food. They have adapted so well that they were chosen out of the 44 bears at the centre, as the first release for 2018.
Both bears were fitted with GPS satellite collars which will enable the BSBCC to monitor their movements on a regular basis.
On March 6, a final medical check-up was conducted by Dr. Nabila Sarkawi. Then, at 3 am on March 7, under the cool cloak of darkness, four vehicles left Sepilok with their important cargo for the helipad at Tabin Wildlife Reserve Headquarters.
The cages were then airlifted by helicopter using cargo net high above the treetops to the chosen release location at the mud volcano site in the middle of the reserve.
The project was a joint effort between Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department, and the BSBCC team.
Dr. Wong Siew Te, chief executive director and founder of BSBCC, said a great deal of planning had gone into the release and the effort had been very successful.
“We were very lucky that the weather was very favourable and that the sun bears were delivered to the release site by helicopter with ease,” he said, adding that: “I am very thankful to my staff and Sabah Wildlife Department for all their support and hard work.”
At the release site, the bear cages were moved under the forest canopy where they were opened, giving the two bears their much-awaited freedom.
“Damai and Debbie may face many challenges to survive but this is the best life we can offer them in the hope they can propagate and maintain a healthy sun bear population in Tabin Wildlife Reserve.
“I am sad to say goodbye, because we have raised them, but they are now where they belong and that makes the team very happy,” Dr. Wong said.
Sun bear is a totally protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997. Offenders are liable to a fine of not less than RM50,000 but not exceeding RM250,000 and a jail term of not less one year but not exceeding five years or to both for possession of sun bear or any of its part.
Sadly, however, some opportunistic locals and regular poachers continue to try and snare or shoot bears in the state’s forests.
BSBCC hopes to release two more bears later this year in Sabah. BSBCC raises money from tourism to care for the bears at Sepilok, but the additional costs of release are very high.
A fund raising campaign opens today. To help sun bears to freedom go to website: www.bsbcc.org.my/donate.