The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is unique. It is the only sun bear conservation centre in the world. At the centre they aim to create international awareness about these little bears and I hope to help a little with this post.
What is a sun bear?
A sun bear is the smallest bear species in the world. They almost look like medium sized soft toys. Due to this sun bears are particularly vulnerable. Their cubs are exceptionally cute and are often traded as pets. The mother sun bear is often killed and then the cub is kept in a cage with inadequate care.
The tropical lowlands of South East Asia are home to the sun bears. They have a pale, horseshoe shape on their chests resembling the rising sun and giving them their name. They are omnivores and will eat primarily invertebrates, fruit and honey.
Sun Bears love honey and will often wreak havoc on the hives at the centre if they can get to them! Because of this love of honey, Sun Bears are often called Honey Bears. Sun bears have exceptionally long tongues for the express purpose of stealing honey. Their tongues can be anywhere between 20-25cm.
Sun bears don’t hibernate, they will build nests in trees to sleep in. This means that deforestation is a great threat to them and has drastically reduced the species. Things like illegal logging, conversion of forests to oil palm plantations and general plantation development all exacerbate this.
The average life-expectancy of a sun bear is about 30 years. Unfortunately they are also hunted mercilessly for meat and medicine. Their gall bladders are particularly sought after because of the bear bile industry.
The Bornean sun bear is the second rarest bear species after the giant panda. It is also the least studied bear. It is on the IUCN Red List as a vulnerable and only through efforts like the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre will these bears survive.
Why are they important?
Their natural behaviour helps ensure the health of the forest. They help disperse seeds and keep termite populations down, helping tropical tree species. They dig for invertebrates in the soil, which enhances the forest’s nutrient cycle through the mixing of rich and poor soil. And they create nesting sites for animals such as hornbills and flying squirrels, by tearing open tree trunks to reach the honey inside.
Aside from the function of the bears they are important because they are part of our world. There is nothing more devastating than hearing that we have wiped out another species. We cannot sit back and watch while living animals are slowly destroyed.
They matter because the world will be a worse place if they all die.
This is why ecotourism is such an important part of our work as travelers. Maybe you can’t spend your life volunteering at conservation centres, but you CAN make your travelling a tool to help these places.
Before last year I only vaguely knew about sun bears. I had no idea what was happening to them as a species and how vulnerable they were. That all changed when my wife and I made the decision to start looking more at ecotourism.
National Geographic Unique Lodges
The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”.
You can still go on the trip of a lifetime while taking part in ecotourism. Travel is such a privilege that we have. It is not asking to much to give back to the places that you visit.
The Sukau Rainforest Lodge is situated in the luscious rain forests of Borneo. Part of their tour package includes visiting the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. The lodges main draw point though is their drive for sustainability.
Not only do they work to take part in sustainable water, electricity and waste practices, they also make sure that they help develop the local community.
They employ local guides and staff. They provide opportunities for locals to learn skills from outside experts. The opportunity to train overseas is also given to some guides.
The lodge is a place that truly gives back to the community that it is situated in. And the positive trends are clearly noticeable. Malaysians are normally very friendly, but the lodge feels content. If you’ve ever walked into a place and felt like it was angry and then walked into another place and everything feels relaxed and happy, you will know what I’m talking about.
The Sukau Rainforest lodge is not unique in its focus. There are hundreds of similar places all over the world. I challenge you as a traveler to search for these when you are planning your next move. A good place to start looking is the National Geographic Unique Lodges. for unique experiences and that are rooted in the local in the local communities, check out the featured lodges. National Geographic has research which of these lodges are dedicated to protecting the surrounding habitats and cultures.
For more information about our trip to the Sukau Lodge have a look at our blog post: Borneo – an overview of amazing.
Adopting a Sun Bear
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre allows you to adopt a sun bear. For roughly $80 (300MYR) a year you can adopt a bear at the centre. The money goes to the care of the bear and upkeep of the centre.
It is a tiny amount of what we spend on travel and again it is not unique. There are many opportunities like this to adopt animals at centres that really make a difference. I challenge you to find just one of these animals in need and adopt!
Feel free to post any comments about animals that you have adopted.
I have just adopted a sun bear called Kitud. The featured picture in this post is Kitud. This is what the centre has to say about her:
Kitud is an excellent climber. She is often found resting on a tree branch and foraging for wild food. She took her first steps into forest enclosures with her best friends, Boboi and Tan-Tan.
I will post any updates that I receive about Kitud on our Twitter and Instagram pages. Follow @MCAdventureBlog to learn more about Kitud and sun bears.
Sepilok and Adopting an Orangutan
We have also adopted the cutest little orangutan baby, Archie, from the Sepilok orangutan centre in Borneo. For the full story and to find out about the immense dangers faced by orangutans read our post about orangutans and the palm oil trade.
Sometimes with all the bad news in the world it can seem hopeless. It’s easy to think, ‘What can I do about it. How can I make a difference?’. Ecotourism is definitely a way you can make a positive difference as a traveler. The money you spend on travel can go directly into the communities that are supporting your adventures. The people you see can benefit from what you spend.
It will take a little bit more research to make sure you know who is receiving the largest portions of what you spend but it is our responsibility as travelers to do just that. You wouldn’t want to travel with a company that abuses animals like elephants, tigers and lions, so why would you use a company that takes advantage of people. If we can show that ecotourism is profitable then more countries will start making the change to sustainable tourism.
Use your passion to make a positive change in the world.
Blue skies and happy travels!
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