Malaysian lauded as CNN Hero for sun bear conservation effort

AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 29 Jul 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Penang-born wildlife biologist Dr Wong Siew Te is a living proof that the most ordinary of people can make an extraordinary impact.

The 48-year-old biologist was featured this week as one of the CNN Heroes for his sun bear conservation work.

Wong was featured in two short videos where he spoke about how the Borneo rainforest is slowly disappearing and that sun bears are threatened by hunting and poaching.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer is also seen caring and feeding milk to sun bear Mary, who was kept as a pet and rescued from a local hunter.

“Mary was either six or seven-month-old when she was rescued in 2011. She was kept in a private house in Ranau.

“When we first met the cub, she was in a bad condition. She was very malnourished and weak because the owner did not take proper care of her. She was kept as a pet, which is illegal but at that time no action was taken against the owner,” he told New Straits Times when contacted.

Mary is now among 43 sun bears currently placed and looked after by Wong and his team at the centre, which is just next door to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan.

Since its establishment in 2008, the centre has cared for 55 sun bears, 10 of which died from various causes, while two others were released into the wild after rehabilitation.

Wong, who is also a tropical ecologist, said Mary’s previous owner had claimed he found her wandering alone in a plantation while hunting but the conservationist believed that was not the case.

“It was most likely he encountered a female sun bear with a cub and killed the mother, taking Mary as a pet. It is impossible for a baby sun bear to wander off alone in the forest.

“The cubs will always stick to their mother. So it is most likely, Mary’s mother was killed. Although there is no evidence, it is not a rocket science. It’s common sense,” he said.

Wong’s interest in studying about sun bears began when he was studying wildlife biology at the University of Montana in the United States in 1994.

He answered the call of a professor was looking for a Malaysian student to carry out a study on sun bears.

Since then, he said his passion had led him to establish the first sun bear conservation centre in the world.

Speaking on the sun bear situation in Sabah, Dr Wong said the forest is getting smaller as the human population increased, making wildlife vulnerable to habitat fragmentation, poaching and hunting.

“We really need to work hard on anti-poaching and to stop people from buying wildlife products. Wildlife crime and illegal slaughtering of wildlife should be treated like human murder case.

“All the governmental departments, non-governmental organisations and local communities must work together to combat poaching of wildlife and we need to really enforce strict laws,” he said.

Wong said he was honoured to be featured on CNN Heroes and hopes his conservation work would reach the people across the globe so more will learn about sun bear.

CNN Heroes is created by the American Cable News Network to honour individuals who make extraordinary contributions to humanitarian aid and make a difference in their communities.


Eyes of the world on sun bears’ Hero
RUBEN SARIO The Star 1 Aug 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A wildlife researcher’s tireless efforts to ensure the survival of the sun bear – the smallest bear species in the world – is getting international attention.

For nearly a decade, Dr Wong Siew Te quietly cared for sun bears that were orphaned by poachers or seized from those keeping them illegally as pets.

His efforts are now in the spotlight after Dr Wong was named a CNN Hero.

CNN describes its heroes as everyday people doing extraordinary things to change the world.

The 48-year-old wildlife biologist founded the Sun Bear conservation centre in Sepilok on the east coast of Sandakan in 2008.

Since then, the centre has cared for 55 bears. Among those, two have been put back into the wild while 10 died due to various causes.

Dr Wong said the centre intends to release four more bears this year.

The majority of the bears there are not likely to readapt to their natural environment because they have become domesticated, he said.

For example, some of these bears have lost their ability to forage for food and others cannot even climb trees anymore.

The Penang-born researcher came to Sabah about 30 years ago as a University of Montana student tasked with studying what was then the little-known sun bear.

Over that period, he noticed that the population was declining by as much as 30% and this spurred him to set up the rehabilitation centre.

Wong told CNN: “Sun bears became part of my family. When they’re endangered, I care for them. When they are in trouble, I speak for them.

“I want to be the voice of the sun bear, to fight for the sun bear, to ensure the survival of the sun bear. But my ultimate goal is to save the entire forest ecosystem ... that is so important to the survival of mankind.”

The CNN feature on Wong and his work can be viewed at goo.gl/gsrVHK

Details on the rehabilitation centre are available at www.bsbcc.org.my

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