SANDAKAN: The global demand for traditional medicine and exotic meat especially in Asia threatens the survival of the Malayan Sun Bear which is now said to have dwindled in numbers by 30% over the last 30 years.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said natives, particularly in Borneo, believe that the bear’s bile ejects itself out of the gall bladder and spreads inside a bear’s body, healing injuries in a fall.
“Sun Bears can climb high up on trees and normally climb down slowly from the tree. However when they encounter human encroachment in the forest when they are on a tree, they tend to slide down quickly or even drop themselves from the tree,” he said.
Many fallaciously believe that they recover quickly after the rapid descent due to the medicinal properties of the bile that the bears secrete.
There is no healing properties in the Sun Bears’ bile that allows them to recover instantly, said Wong who explained this was the curse of the Sun Bears.
He said in some parts of the world, Asiatic Black Bears are kept in unimaginably cruel conditions in small metal cages and their bile extracted for up to 20 years, and then killed once they are unable to produce the liquid.
While there are no bear bile farms in Malaysia, bear bile is consumed locally. Bear gall bladder, bear bile capsules and other bile products are sold illegally in traditional medicine stores.
“With this demand, Sun Bears continue to be at risk of getting hunted in the wild,” he said in a statement to create awareness on the plight of Sun Bears.
While the actual number of Sun Bears in the wild is unknown, its status as a “totally protected” species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment and its listing as “Vulnerable” on The IUCN Red List are not keeping those after its bile away from the risk of prosecution.
Under the Enactment, those found in possession of a Sun Bear or its product could face a fine of up to RM50,000 or a jail term of five years, or both.
Fundraiser on July 20
Wong said Sun Bears are still hunted in Borneo for their purported medicinal properties, and cited a recent news report on bear meat and parts being sold at a market in Kapit, Sarawak.
Other threats that Sun Bears face include habitat loss and demand for the exotic pet trade.
“Sun Bear cubs are cute and there is demand for such a pet. To get a cub, the mother is killed to prevent hunters from getting harmed. Once these cubs grow, they become aggressive and it becomes dangerous to keep them as pets.
“This is when they are surrendered to the authorities. They lose survival skills when kept as pets, as this is something they learn from their mothers,” he said.
Bears surrendered to or confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department are sent to the BSBCC adjacent to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. It is currently home to 28 SunBears.
Awareness activities will be stepped up once the BSBCC is officially opened to the public, tentatively by early next year.
The BSBCC is planning to hold a fundraiser on July 20 in Sandakan to meet the ever increasing costs of caring for Sun Bears in captivity and for awareness work.