KOTA KINABALU: Two rescued Malayan sun bears were released back into the wild at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve near Lahad Datu.
The two adult females, named Damai and Debbie, adapted quickly to their new surroundings, said Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive director Dr Wong Siew Te on Thursday (March 8).
They were once kept as pets by private owners. Damai and Debbie were rehabilitated to life in the forest at BSBCC where they learned important skills like climbing, digging and finding food over the past few years.
"They have learnt so well that they were chosen out of the 44 bears at the centre, as the first releases in 2018," Dr Wong said.
He added that both bears were fitted with GPS satellite collars to help BSBCC monitor their movements.
After a final medical check on Tuesday (March 6), the two bears were transported from BSBCC in Sepilok at about 3am the next day in four vehicles.
They were then taken to a helipad at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve headquarters some 150km away.
A helicopter airlifted the bears to be transported to the chosen release site in the middle of the reserve.
The project was a joint effort between the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Sabah Forestry Department.
"Damai and Debbie may face many challenges to survive but this is the best life we can offer them in the hope they can propagate and maintain a healthy sun bear population in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve," Dr Wong said.
"I am sad to say goodbye, because we have raised them, but they are now where they belong and that makes the team very happy," he added.
Sun bears, which continue to face threat from poachers, is a totally protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.
BSBCC hopes to release two more bears later this year in Sabah.
BSBCC raises money from tourism to care for the bears at Sepilok, but the additional costs of release are very high.
A fundraising campaign opens today. To help sun bears to freedom go to bsbcc.org.my/donate.