Sun bears can live up to 30 years in captivity (Photo credit: BSBCC)

World's first sun bear sanctuary opens in Borneo

26th March 2014

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre opened to the public in January 2014 and has since been visited by Sir David Attenborough

Founded by researcher and conservationist Siew Te Wong, nicknamed Sun Bear Man by the local press, the centre is the only one of its kind in the world.

It is currently home to 28 rescued bears, a population that includes both adults and juveniles, to be cared for until they can be released back into the wild.

The centre was first established in 2008 next door to the Sepilok Orang Utan sanctuary in the Malaysia state of Sabah but has not been open to the public until now. Among the first visitors was Sir David Attenborough who received a tour on 11 March 2014.

Measuring up to 150cm in length and just 80cm high at the shoulder, the Helarctos malayanus, or sun bear, is the smallest of the planet's bear species. Bears are identifiable by their sleek black fur and by a beige crescent on their chests. Thought to resemble a rising or setting sun, it is this distinctive marking that has given them their name.

Once widespread in the tropical forests of south-east Asia and on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, sun bears are now listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Populations of the bears are thought to have declined by as much as 30% over the last 30 years (IUCN 2007) as a result of habitat destruction and hunting.


Kevin Albin, bronze award winner in the 2011 Wanderlust World Guide Awards, is a long-term supporter of the conservation centre.

“I first came across Sun Bears while working on conservation projects in Borneo,” says Kevin. “Everyone knows about the orang utans in Borneo and that their habitat is being destroyed by deforestation but the sun bears share a similar habitat.” The expansion of palm oil plantations across south-east Asia has had a particularly dramatic effect on bear numbers.

As Kevin explains, further threats to the bears come from the illegal wildlife trade. “Sun bears are being captured when young and sold as pets. The cubs are very cute but they're abandoned when they become unmanageable. Worse still, their paws are used as an expensive delicacy and their gall bladders are sold for the extraction of bile used in traditional Asian medicine.

Bear meat is still eaten by traditional communities in Borneo and local hunters pose yet another threat to the bears.

Largely arboreal in nature, the bears subsist predominantly on a diet of insects and fruit. They are equipped with long tongues, enabling them to extract honey and bee larvae from hives and their taste for honey has given rise to the nickname Beruang Madu, meaning 'honey bear' in Malay and Polynesian.

Slender claws make them excellent climbers while powerful jaws allow them to break apart logs in search of food. As Siew Te Wong and the sanctuary's research team are keen to stress, they play an important ecological role. By controlling the numbers of pest insects, dispersing seeds and breaking down dead wood, they help to maintain the health of the forests in which they live.


Wong has been studying sun bears since 1998 and sees a “holistic approach” as the most effective means of dealing with their conservation. “[The centre is] not only a sanctuary,” says Wong. “[We] incorporate improving animal welfare, education, research and rehabilitation.”

“Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is the only conservation centre in the world where visitors can learn about sun bears and observe them in the natural environment,” he adds. “The rescued sun bears at BSBCC have the opportunity to roam our state of the art forest enclosures and perform their daily activities just like the wild sun bears.”

Despite the success of the centre, Wong is already looking ahead. “The plan for the future would be establishing a field station for the reintroduction program to give them [the bears] a second chance to live in the forest,” he explains.

Out of respect for the importance of the conservation centre, Kevin chose to donate his Wanderlust World Guide Awards prize bursary to help the bears.

“It was rewarding to help the sanctuary with the bursary from Wanderlust,” says Kevin. “The work being done there is excellent and people can support this by visiting, learning about the plight of these beautiful creatures and spreading the word."

The centre is situated next door to Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Sandakan, Sabah. To find out more visit the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre website and the centre's Facebook page.

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 Your Comments (4)

  • 7th April by devka

    oh my, visited by david attenborough? now that's really awesome!

    ah, I just gotta fly there and see if for myself.. I hope air asia keeps what it promises!

    Report as inappropriate
  • 15th November by Showbox

    I love to travel, but it is necessary and a good rest!  There is a huge variety of free TV shows and movies on Showbox and like mentioned above new content is constantly being added.

    Report as inappropriate
  • 20th December by ahrefsfor

    I love bears, in this cruel world of humans where everything is in endangered for their own profit and fun, anyway here are some funny bear use it on you fb status share it save the bares.

    Report as inappropriate
  • 20th December by ahrefsfor

    <a href="">lenny faces</a>

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Key Facts

  • Malaysia

    Malaysia travel guide, including map of Malaysia, travel tips, accommodation, food and drink, attractions, culture, and weather in Malaysia

  • Volunteer and conservation

    Volunteer and conservation travel guide, including info on voluntourism, how to give back on your travels, how to get started with travel volunteering and more

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