Malaysia: 30pc decline in Malayan sun bear population

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 23 May 13;

VULNERABLE SPECIES: Loss of suitable habitat and poaching have reduced numbers in the past three decades

SANDAKAN: THE population of the Malayan sun bear has declined by 30 per cent in the last three decades due to habitat loss and poaching for parts used in traditional medicine.

In Borneo, the smallest of the world's eight bear species is also seeing a drop in numbers following their illegal capture for the pet trade as well as being killed after being wrongly perceived as pests.

The sun bears are found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra in Indonesia and Borneo but their exact numbers in the wild is unknown, making it even more pressing to reduce pressure on a species that is classified "vulnerable" on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List and at risk of becoming endangered unless circumstances threatening their survival improve.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said the sun bear was divided into two sub-species -- the Helarctos malayanus malayanus and the Helarctos malayanus euryspilus, with the latter, smaller bear found only in Borneo.

"In other words, sun bears in Borneo are even smaller than sun bears found in other parts of Malaysia and the region.

"We hope to share with more locals how fortunate we are that such a unique bear is found here in Borneo and right here in Sabah," he said in a statement.

Shrinking forest cover makes poaching and capturing wild bears easier due to increased contact with human settlements, Wong added.

Currently, BSBCC is holding 28 rescued bears. Some of these bears were illegally kept as pets while others were trapped in the forest and sent to the centre.

"Bears here are trained to adapt to the forest within an enclosed area as some have never been in the wild, having been kept as pets from a young age," said Wong, adding the bears would be released into the wild after an evaluation process.

The centre is located adjacent to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre here.

"We need to protect the remaining forest cover if we are to secure the future of sun bears and, at the same time, eliminate any poaching of these bears in the wild.

"Awareness activities will be stepped up once the centre is officially opened to the public, tentatively by early next year."

Sun bears are also classified as a "totally protected species" under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, providing it the same status as orang utans and the Sumatran rhinoceros.