The 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.