20th January 2016;
Superstitious beliefs among Sabahans that the bile from a Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) could help restore consciousness to an unconscious person could be the reason behind the killing of the sun bear at Sukau, Kinabatangan.
Kepayan Assemblyman Dr Edwin Bosi said it is clear by the way the carcass was found that the culprit was only interested in harvesting its gallbladder.
The bile, some believe, can snap one out of unconsciousness, such as one who is unconscious due to an accident, just by placing the bile on his or her tongue. The limbs of the Sun Bear are usually dried and kept as souvenir items unlike the palms of Monkeys and Apes which are used to cure ailments related to the respiratory system.
“As a wildlife veterinarian and consultant, I am very sad to learn of this brutal killing of a beautiful animal,” he said.
He said because of these beliefs in the animals’ medicinal value, they become victims of poachers. Sun Bear gallbladder fetches a high price.
“People have even asked me for animal parts during my time at the Sepilok Wildlife Clinic,” he said.
Bosi said he is not trying to promote more poaching by telling the public about the uses and monetary value of Sun Bear gallbladders or Monkey palms but as a reminder to the government and the public that poaching against these animals would continue as long as there is demand for their parts.
“It is our duty to counter these perceptions and follow up with strong enforcement,” he said, adding that he hoped that the Sun Bear is not the one that was reportedly released to the wild from a mini zoo in Tawau.
“I heard about the incident in the Tawau mini zoo some months ago and it is a subject of discussion among conservationists around the world. I think Sabah is getting famous for all the wrong reasons.
"The extinction of the Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) during our time, killings of Pygmy Elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis), heavy poaching activities, smuggling of wildlife and the reported poor management of animals in the zoos are not good for Sabah who had spent so much effort and money to promote eco-tourism,” he said.
Speaking through experience, Bosi said it is not an easy task to rehabilitate Sun Bears back to the wild as even wild Bears came to steal from human tents in the wild. The notion that these animals are afraid of human, he said is quite true because they would quickly disappear when they see humans in the woods.
However, he said, it would be totally different when they have been habituated to humans under long term captivity.
“I have assisted in tranquilising a Sun Bear at one of the resorts in Sepilok. The animal was kept as a pet from young and deemed so playful and friendly by the owner. Then one day it escaped from its cage and the owner tried to put it back into the cage only to be mauled in his thigh.
"A Sun Bear is always a wild animal. It is never a good choice to confine them in cages or in captivity.
However,Sun Bear-human conflict can and will happen once its habitat is diminished,” he said.
Last Saturday, a Swedish couple captured photos of the carcass of an adult Sun Bear floating in the Kinabatangan River while on a cruise to spot wildlife.
They shared the images with the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) Chief Executive Officer Wong Siew Te.
The carcass they saw was the lower part of a Sun Bear that was cut into half with both its hind paws missing.
It was seen floating downstream at Kampung Sukau, close to an agriculture estate.
The Sun Bear’s carcass was recovered later in the night with the help of Kinabatangan–Corridor of Life Tourism Association (KiTA) members and sent to the Sabah Wildlife Department for investigation.
In a joint statement issued by the department and the BSBCC, Wong said the Bear was killed in cold blood and that the act was an illegal one that should be stopped immediately.
There are no estimates on the number of Sun Bears in Sabah’s wild, and those that are found orphaned or caged as part of the pet trade are usually sent to the BSBCC for rehabilitation.