KOTA KINABALU: A wildlife researcher’s tireless efforts to ensure the survival of the sun bear – the smallest bear species in the world – is getting international attention.
For nearly a decade, Dr Wong Siew Te quietly cared for sun bears that were orphaned by poachers or seized from those keeping them illegally as pets.
His efforts are now in the spotlight after Dr Wong was named a CNN Hero.
CNN describes its heroes as everyday people doing extraordinary things to change the world.
The 48-year-old wildlife biologist founded the Sun Bear conservation centre in Sepilok on the east coast of Sandakan in 2008.
Since then, the centre has cared for 55 bears. Among those, two have been put back into the wild while 10 died due to various causes.
Dr Wong said the centre intends to release four more bears this year.
The majority of the bears there are not likely to readapt to their natural environment because they have become domesticated, he said.
For example, some of these bears have lost their ability to forage for food and others cannot even climb trees anymore.
The Penang-born researcher came to Sabah about 30 years ago as a University of Montana student tasked with studying what was then the little-known sun bear.
Over that period, he noticed that the population was declining by as much as 30% and this spurred him to set up the rehabilitation centre.
Wong told CNN: “Sun bears became part of my family. When they’re endangered, I care for them. When they are in trouble, I speak for them.
“I want to be the voice of the sun bear, to fight for the sun bear, to ensure the survival of the sun bear. But my ultimate goal is to save the entire forest ecosystem ... that is so important to the survival of mankind.”
The CNN feature on Wong and his work can be viewed at goo.gl/gsrVHK
Details on the rehabilitation centre are available at www.bsbcc.org.my