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Sun bears

There are eight bear species in the world and the sun bear is one of them. It is the smallest of the all the bears, the polar bear being the biggest. It lives throughout the tropical forests in Southeast Asia and is slowly disappearing as its habitat is destroyed and it is poached for body parts and as a pet.

The Malayan Sun bear, to give it its full title, is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ to extinction by the IUCN. Until fairly recently, there was so little information known about the sun bear that it couldn’t even be classified.

It is an important species for the ecosystem as it spreads seeds over large areas, and bio-engineers the forest by breaking big holes into tree trunks looking for honey and destroying fallen trees looking for grubs. Due to its importance as a large mammal in the lowland tropical forest, and our lack of scientific knowledge, REACT has chosen to focus its efforts on its conservation.

For more detailed information on sun bears, visit Wikipedia ‘Sun Bears’.

REACT Sun Bear Project

The public knows so little about sun bears that REACT is committed to raising awareness. We will support various campaigns and education programmes so that this wonderful bear species gains more attention. This includes working in Malaysia to improve the education of local school children. Local people are the guardians of their environment and it is especially important for these communities to know about the species on their doorstep.

As the sun bear is disappearing due mainly to habitat destruction, it is vital to help maintain wild populations in protected areas. We are focused on the Kinabatangan River in the Malaysian State of Sabah. REACT is therefore dedicated to planting forest corridors to help sun bears move around small fragmented forest patches. Due to a lack of scientific knowledge, it is difficult to put in place conservation measures so we will also support research in this area.

Connecting You to Sun Bears

Connecting to sun bears is not such an easy thing. As one of the lesser known bear species, there are no specialised tours or volunteer programmes but REACT will be working to rectify this. In the meantime, here are a few suggestions.

You can volunteer with at rescue centres. Rescued sun bears are often put in centre together with orangutans. So if you want to help sun bears, you should look out for rescue centres that are marketed as orangutan programmes.

To volunteer with sun bears speak to the team at The Great Orangutan Project and ask specifically about sun bears.

If you are a teacher or a student, why not consider a school education trip with sun bears? Have a taste of what it is like to be a conservationist and find out more about the complexities of saving an endangered species.

If you have any spare time why not help out at REACT? We need people to help with events, collections or maybe you have a special skill to contribute.

Make a donation to help REACT save sun bears in the wild. We use Virgin to take donation as this saves us on administration and ensure we can spend the maximum amount of your donation on sun bears.

Sun Bear Release

Sun Bear CageThe Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is threatened throughout its natural home range in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, from India to China to the islands of Indonesia. They help maintain a healthy forest ecosystem by dispersing seeds, keeping down insect pest numbers and ‘engineering’ trees by destroying decaying logs, creating holes in trees and termite nests.

There is a lack of scientific research which makes the Malayan sun bear the least studied bear species in the world and only a handful of conservation projects that aim to protect it. Until 2008, the conservation status of the Malayan sun bear was ‘unclassified’ due to a lack of data.

Since then, they have been reclassified as ‘Vulnerable’ to extinction on the IUCN red book listing. It is estimated that their population has decreased 30% in the last 30 years but the truth is that no accurate population count has ever been made and no one is even sure how to carry one out.

Combine this lack of scientific knowledge, with the lack of conservation effort and its ecological importance, it becomes clear that the sun bear is a neglected tropical rainforest species in Borneo. REACT has therefore identified the sun bear as a priority species and has dedicated an appeal to raise awareness and secure its future survival as a species.

REACT is currently involved in three different centres in Borneo; with Sarawak Forestry in Matang Wildlife Centre, BOS Foundation in Samboja Lestari and forming a partnership with the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok. At each of these projects there are sun bear conservation projects underway, all at different stages in the rehabilitation and release process.

Former sun bear releases have proved difficult and expensive. Only one long-term project has ever shown success where two cubs were taken out for three years and managed to survive to adulthood in the wild and give birth to a new generation. REACT will use your money to help our partners develop gold standards for release and help wherever possibly along this route.

By getting sun bears out of cages as a priority and getting them climbing, digging and eating the right foods in an outdoor enclosure, we can start the process of rehabilitation and find the best candidates for release. In time, we can trial release techniques based on the lessons of the past and demonstrate to the conservation world that sun bear releases are possible and can be done relatively easily and quickly. Thus successfully reintroducing the sun bear back into forests where they have disappeared from and help return the forest to a healthy condition – a great conservation outcome.

The rapid decline of rainforest in Borneo

Only 60 years ago, the island of Borneo was covered in forest. The lowland areas of Borneo were covered in millions of hectares of tropical forests and peat swamps, some of the most biodiverse areas on Earth. In one square kilometre of Bornean lowland tropical forest, there are 10 times more tree species than in the whole of Europe combined!

The invention of the chainsaw changed everything. Logging and agriculture, that had been taking place at a slow pace suddenly accelerated massively. The demand from Western countries for tropical hardwoods and crops such as rubber made it commercially viable for Malaysia and Indonesia to chop down their Bornean forests at an unprecedented and uncontrolled speed.

Then in 2003, Denmark became the first country to ban trans fats, a type of chemically-altered fat added to our foods. In 2005, an important paper by the Food and Nutrition Board, in the USA, established that human consumption of trans fats leads to coronary heart disease. The global food industry was in turmoil, and, afraid of being sued for feeding , scrambled to find a cheap and plentiful alternative oil. They turned to palm oil. Demand for palm oil, which had already been increasing, rose ever higher. The result was that deforestation on the island of Borneo increased even more rapidly than before, as palm oil companies rushed to find suitable agricultural land.

The maps below illustrates deforestation in Borneo. The remaining forests in 2020 are generally around mountainous areas, whilst the lowland tropical forests, home to orangutans and the most biodiverse habitat, have largely been destroyed or degraded.

Since lowland tropical rainforest is so very important for biodiversity, REACT is committed to reforestation in the most sensitive areas. REACT focuses on an area called the Kinabatangan River in the Northeast of Borneo, where there are high concentrations of Bornean orangutans, pygmy elephants, sun bears, clouded leopards and literally dozens of other species threatened with extinction.

We support local school children from local villages to get involved in tree planting in wildlife corridors and degraded forests. This ensures that there will be suitable habitat for many endangered species, and at the same time educates children about environmental problems. The truth is that many people in these areas are not aware of the conservation issues, or the importance of the environment. Many of the children from these villages we take on tree planting sessions have never seen a wild orangutan.

Education

education-kidsHere at REACT, we believe that educating the next generation about conservation is essential. Young people are the consumers and decision-makers of tomorrow. This is why we are committed to promoting the finest conservation education programmes to students, parents and teachers. There are good and bad projects, sometimes it is hard to know which to choose. We will only promote education programmes or providers that meet the following criteria:

  • Study one or more endangered animals;
  • Study social and economic issues, and the interrelationship between these impacts and the environment;
  • The learning process should be fun, safe and include direct participation by the student by means of observation and/or an activity and/or research;
  • Educationally rigorous. The learning process should teach scientific skills that are structured, through quantitative and qualitative methodology, in order to develop individual conclusions and values based on personal experience and learning.
  • Provide a balanced view between animal conservation and human development.

How can you benefit as a student?

Essentially, you get to live and breath a conservation project, with back stage passes to endangered animal projects. Imagine seeing an orangutan or a sun bear up close and personal, or visualise yourself trekking through the hot and humid rainforests of Borneo or talking to tribal villagers. But these programmes are much more than just being a passive bystander. You also get to participate and learn how the rainforest works, why animals behave the way they do, scratch beneath the surface and discover a new culture and way of thinking.

Perhaps you’ve considered being a scientist and want to see what it is really like or understand better how you can contribute. Or maybe you’ve thought about working abroad or travelling but don’t know if it is right for you. Whatever your reasons, these programmes are a great way to learn through experience, make your own mind up about how the world works and decide how you can contribute. No matter how many books you read, or how many videos you watch, there is no substitute for real life learning.

Animals

REACT aims to connect you to endangered animals. In order to do this we work closely with certain species to help make this a dream come true. In 2011, we are focusing specially on three species; the Bornean orangutan, the Asian pygmy elephant and the Malayan sun bear. Click on the following pages to find out more.

There are a few ways for you to get involved with saving these animals and each page will give you the best options.

Forest Restoration Appeal

REACT is committed to finding holistic solutions for endangered animals. In 2011, REACT is focusing on the Bornean orangutan, the Asian pygmy elephant and the Malayan sun bear, and plans to help these species through reforestation.

Ultimately, all animals depend on healthy habitats for their survival. Conserving lowland tropical rainforest in Borneo, which is the most biodiverse terrestrial habitat on Earth, makes a good deal of sense. Other endangered animals that benefit from conservation in this area include the proboscis monkey, Muller’s gibbon, clouded leopard, Bornean slow loris, banteng (a wild bovine species), binturong (bearcat), pangolin and many other thousand-rainforest species from insects to birds.

When forests are destroyed, the remaining patches become isolated in a sea of agriculture and degraded land. Large animals are the most susceptible as they need lots and lots of land. An orangutan for example needs up to 30 Km2! So for the animals that have survived in these fragments, it is often necessary to search for new feeding areas and find mates. If this is not possible, a population can become isolated for too long. This causes the animals to inbreed and leads to severe genetic issues.

Where to Reforest?

REACT is starting in an area called the Kinabatangan River. It winds its way for hundreds of kilometres from the central mountains of Borneo, through the flat lowland plains eventually emptying into the mangroves swamps and the Sulu Sea.

A recent study showed that there are there 11 forest patches that remain. Each one contains orangutans and it is predicted that eight of these populations will become extinct in the coming 200 years unless something is done. The objective is to reconnect these forest patches along this important river in Sabah over the coming years. Thanks to these green corridors orangutans, elephants and sun bears will be able to freely forage for food and to search for mates over large areas. This will ensure the survival of these species in this part of Borneo for hundreds of years to come.

Partnership Working

This is an ambitious project and it will take the help of many organisations both locally in the State of Sabah, Malaysia, and internationally. REACT is committed to working with all the stakeholders, be they Government, local communities, private companies and NGOs to make our objective of reconnecting forest patches a reality. So far, the Orangutan Land Trust and the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums support REACT, and we hope to forge new relationships with your help and support.

Projects

REACT is focusing on three species; the Bornean orangutan, the Asian pygmy elephant and the Malayan sun bear. These are umbrella species. By ensuring the continued survival of these species, we also ensure the survival of many other species that live in the same habitat.

As human populations grow and increasingly threaten the Earth’s ecosystems, REACT appeals are therefore designed holistically to consider people and habitats as well as animals.

About us

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REACT Philosophy

It is our belief that one person can make a difference. REACT is a way for people to become involved in a cause they are passionate about by contributing their time, energy and money to become better informed, help raise awareness and contribute directly to conservation.

REACT achieves this by developing meaningful projects and creating channels to help those projects. Some people may choose to make a direct donation or set up a fundraising event, others may work at a project, younger people might choose to join an education project, or experienced professionals may volunteer their skills.

The projects themselves are developed following the principles of sustainability. REACT works with local Government and communities as much as we help animals. Social and economic solutions are important in creating successful environmental outcomes. It is essential that local people understand the importance of their environmental heritage and can benefit from it.

Charity Objective

REACT is an incorporated charity under UK law, charity registration number 1136449 with the Charity Commission, and company number 7089652 with Companies House. Our constitution requires us to fulfill the following charity objective:

“To promote the preservation and conversation of endangered species, and to advance the education of the public in these areas, by providing, arranging and assisting volunteer-based wildlife and conservation projects.”

How REACT was formed

The founder, Guillaume Feldman, worked in Asia for six years and set up and developed a number of volunteer programmes with orangutans, elephants, sun bears and turtles. Most notably, Guillaume started the Great Orangutan Project and set up orangutan projects in Matang Wildlife Centre (a rescue centre managed by Sarawak Forestry Corporation), Zoo Negara (the Malaysian national zoo), Samboja Lestari (a reforestation and rescue centre run by BOS), and the Kinabatangan in Sabah (a project helping wild populations).

Additionally, Guillaume was part of the team that developed the amazing Wild at Heart education programmes which has attracted some of the world’s most prestigious international schools.

In 2009, Guillaume started REACT. This has allowed more people to become more involved in these projects and contribute even more. Being a charity has allowed us to tap into grants and donations that were never available before and strengthen the conservation outcomes whilst remaining true to the spirit of collaborative and inclusive conservation.

Connecting You to Conservation

Do you want a charity that can bring you closer to endangered animals? Then the Red Endangered Animal Connection Trust (REACT) is the one for you. It’s goal is to get you working directly with projects in the UK and across the worldso that you can learn and contribute to animals that are on the brink of extinction.

REACT does this in a three ways:

  • we inform you about ways in which you can contribute every day, whether it is by signing a petition or making consumer choices, through Facebook or Twitter;
  • we let you know how you can volunteer in projects across the world; by working in cooperation with other organisations or by setting up projects oursleves;
  • give you the opportunity to fundraise money for endangered animals;

REACT works with many organisations in different parts of the world. Every year, we select certain species and concentrate on helping you connect to them. This year, we are focusing on the Bornean orangutan, the Malayan sun bear and the Asian pygmy elephant. These are all species that are classified as ‘threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (giving rise to the ‘Red’ in REACT) is the most comprehensive and respected inventory of species at risk.

These are ‘umbrella species’; species that require large areas of land. Conserving these animals means that other species that share the same habitat are also protected. For example, an orangutan requires anything from 1 to 30 Km2 of land (though their territories may overlap), or a Sun bear can range from 10Km2 to 25 Km2. By protecting orangutans, sun bears and elephants, you help to protect thousands of other species of amphibians, mammals, birds, reptiles, invertebrates, plants and other species live.

Here are three examples of how people have connected to endangered animals thanks to REACT:

  • Tree planting in England’s largest native reforestation project
  • Running a half marathon to fundraise money for Bornean orangutans and Sun bears
  • Volunteering in Borneo in an orangutan rescue centre

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