Meet the wild beauties of Borneo

  • Animals
  • Tuesday, 14 Mar 2017

Orang utans are facing the loss of their forest homes as plantations expand. Photos: Discovery Channel

Sun bears are cute, cuddly and playful, but they are not doing too well in their Malaysian home.

“Many of them have lost their forest habitat,” says sun bear expert Wong Siew Te. “In the past 50 years, almost all lowland forests, except for a few protected areas, have been affected by logging or cleared for plantations.”

“Now, the greatest threat to bears and wildlife clinging on to the few remaining patches of forest is poaching. Though just a few people are doing the hunting, the impact is devastating.”

Malaysia has good wildlife laws but poor enforcement and persecutions are poor, according to Wong.

“There are rampant sales of wildlife on the Internet; even baby sun bears can be bought,” he laments.

Wong is being interviewed in conjunction with the launch of Discovery Channel’s Frontier Borneo, an action-packed journey featuring the lives of remarkable men and women and unforgettable creatures on the third largest island on the planet.

Wong giving treatment to a sun bear.
Wong Siew Te giving treatment to a sun bear.

They have to deal with home-made bombs in the oceans, explore uncharted jungles, rescue endangered animals and come face to face with deadly creatures.

This unique cast of local and international wildlife rangers, explorers, scientists and conservationists uncover some of the most spectacular landscapes to be found in Borneo.

In tonight’s episode (Astro Ch 551, 10pm), Wong faces almost insurmountable odds as he attempts to provide a new life for bear cub Dodop, which can’t even feed herself.

Wong founded the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in 2008 after witnessing many captive bears – cubs and adults – kept in small cages, unhygienic and often disgusting conditions in zoos, farms, private menageries, and private homes.

With his veterinary and wildlife biology education, Wong could see almost all the bears were suffering from serious stereotypic behaviours: relentless pacing and circling, obsessive licking and other disturbing behaviours.

Also in tonight’s episode, a crocodile hunter has to track down the reptile suspected of causing a local fisherman to go missing.

A crocodile is suspected in the case of a missing fisherman in Sarawak.
A crocodile is suspected in the case of a missing fisherman in Sarawak.

Leo Biddle, CEO of Orang utan Project at the Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak.
Leo Biddle, CEO of Orang utan Project at the Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak.

In next Tuesday’s episode, we see Leo Biddle, CEO and founder of Orang Utan Project Sdn Bhd at the Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak, preparing for the planned release of five orang utans into the wild. But the wilderness holds dangers for animals which have grown dependent on human care.

Biddle came from England to work in Borneo because he wanted to make the world a more bearable place for wildlife and the ecosystem.

“For me, it was also about social justice, to eliminate the suffering of both animals and humans.”

But he worries about the future of not only the orang utan, but other animals, as their forest home is converted to plantations.

Also in this episode is ranger Christopher Kri, who is on a mission to save a coral reef which has been devastated by deep sea fishing trawlers.

For the March 28 episode, we can watch turtle scientist Nick Pilcher teaching new recruits to capture these animals barehanded, but one of the newbies forgets a key safety rule.

Frontier Borneo will run till May 2 and there are many other highlights. For instance, on April 11, shark expert David McGuire will try an unprecedented experiment – move a group of sharks to a new home.

On April 18, we see the team from the Sarawak Dolphin project braving huge waves to uncover the secrets of elusive Irrawaddy dolphins. And activist Alex Yee goes undercover to try and expose the dark secrets around the trade of turtle eggs.

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