Monday, May 25, 2015

First rehabilitated sun bear returns to the wild in Sabah

KOTA KINABALU —  Natalie, the sun bear in Sabah who was rescued after poachers killed her mother, became the first to be released into the wild after she returned to the reserve forests of Lahad Datu last week.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder Wong Siew Te said Natalie, who arrived at the centre in December 2010 aged three months, has come of age in the four and a half years under their care and that the rare sun bear is now ready to fend for herself.

“Releasing her was a moment of bittersweet joy,” Wong told Malay Mail Online today.

“I cared for her like a daughter. I had brought her for walks in the forest, fed her, taught her what food to identify and played with her. It was sad to let her go but I know she belongs in the forest,” he added.

Natalie was one of 35 sun bears kept in captivity, most of which were brought there as cubs after their mothers were killed by poachers. BSBCC has kept a total of 43 sun bears, which are the smallest bear species in the world, since the centre was established.

“Young sun bears are cute and people want to keep them as pets. The person who surrendered her claimed she was found abandoned in the forest,” Wong said.

The BSBCC and Sabah Wildlife Department have been monitoring Natalie’s movements and progress at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve through a satellite collar fitted on her, after she was airlifted by a helicopter from Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd into the protected area, away from settlements and oil palm plantations.

Part of Natalie’s rehabilitation process included walks in the forest to learn to live like wild bears by developing essential survival skills like foraging, climbing, nest building and socialising.

“Natalie grew up in natural forest enclosures in BSBCC with tall trees, dense vegetation and significant amounts of natural food items such as termites, earthworms, insects and honey from bee hives,” said Wong.