The Malayan Sun Bear, or Helarctos malayanus, is a bear species that inhabits the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. Sun bears are found in Bangladesh, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia however sightings in the wild are rare. The sun bears of Borneo (Helarctos malayanus euryspilus) are a sub-species of those on the Asia mainland and Sumatra.
In Malaysia, the sun bear is known as beruang badu which means “honey bear” in Malay due to their fondness for honey. They are omnivores and also commonly eat termites, millipedes and a wide variety of fruit.
The sun bear is a ‘vulnerable’ species as its population is believed to have decreased 30% over the past 30 years. This is caused by the serious deforestation that has taken place throughout Southeast Asia over past decades which has reduced the sun bears’ natural habitat area. Commercial poaching is another major threat as their bile is highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine and their paws are considered an expensive delicacy. They are sadly also threatened by the illegal pet trade within which cubs are orphaned and sold to exotic pet lovers. To combat sun bears’ risk for extinction, harming sun bears or owning their products has been strictly prohibited under national wildlife protection laws but these practices still go on.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), just adjacent to the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, is placed in Sepilok, Sandakan. It was founded by Wong Siew Te in 2008 to care for orphaned and illegal sun bears with a hope of rehabilitating them to the wild. It also aims to raise awareness of this little-known bear species and its threats among Malaysian and international visitors. It was opened to the public in 2013 and is currently home to 37 bears, at the time of writing.
BSBCC improves the welfare of rescued sun bears by providing them with large forest enclosures. Visitors can see them foraging, climbing trees and building nests in their natural habitat. Here the bears develop the skills needed to survive in the wild and can be seen at various levels of rehabilitation. The centre also aims to educate the public to prevent the need to rescue bears in the first place. Visitors can learn about the bears, the rainforest and the threats they face. BSBCC leads research on these least studied bears, which helps their bears and educational programmes.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre welcomes donations which all go towards funding the rescue and conservation efforts. You can also choose to adopt a bear!
Non-Malaysian adults pay RM30 to enter the conservation centre. Children aged 12-17 pay RM15. Malaysian adults pay RM5, children pay RM2. These prices exclude 6% GST. All proceeds go towards sun bear conservation.
When visiting the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre, visitors will get to view these playful creatures in their original habitat – in open-air forest enclosures. Opening times are 9 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. The centre is located 23 km from Sandakan, which is not too far away. You can get there by the Labuk Road Bus Company vehicles in front of Majlis Perbandaran Sandakan building or by taxi.
* BSBCC is located right opposite Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabiliation Centre!
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