During this year spent working in the isolated jungles of Borneo, I have come to realize the truly unglamorous and challenging hardships that define the reality of long-term, international conservation work. Not only have I gained a deep appreciation for the dedication and sacrifice necessary to work in this field, I have also experienced exponential personal growth as I have been forced to persevere through vast cultural differences, language and communication barriers, erratically-available electricity, all varieties of discomfort, technical failures, extreme bouts of loneliness and even aggressive attacks from wild primates!
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) based in Sepilok, Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia aims to conserve sun bears through improved animal welfare, rehabilitation, education and research. When sun bears are rescued from illegal captive situations they require acute efforts of rehabilitation because they are typically kept in highly unnatural, traumatizing conditions that impact the bears’ mental and physical health. The BSBCC provides a suitable home for these bears with rehabilitation as the main objective. In the wild, sun bears spend the first 2-3 years of their life learning forest survival skills from their mother, therefore, a significant stage in the rehabilitation process is allowing these orphaned/ex-captive bears to regain their forest skills through access to a designated forest enclosure.
My research involves observing the sun bears’ behavior while they spend this crucial time in the Centre’s forest enclosure. This observation time includes quantitative data collection on the individual bears’ activity and location in the forest area, as well as, qualitative written descriptions and photographic documentation of notable behaviors. I observe the bears from a distance using only non-invasive documentation and observation methods. All data and documentation collected is organized into an electronic database that enables an evaluative assessment of each bear’s progress during their rehabilitation time in the forest enclosure. This database also provides systematic measurements for evaluating the overall success of the rehabilitation process and supports the future design of a reintroduction program.
Currently, few observation studies have been based on sun bears in their natural habitat; therefore, this study will also be contributing crucial data on sun bear behavior and ecology that is necessary for the design of adequate conservation management plans for this species.