Marcus Ng on Wong Siew Te’s Sun bear talk

Marcus Ng came away with a new understanding of the Sun bear’s biology and a grim understanding of the fate of the sun bear in Malaysia and South East Asia, after attending Wong Siew Te’s talk on “The ecology and conservation of the sun bear in Malaysia.”

“About halfway through his presentation, bear researcher Wong Siew Te showed a duotone slide. Pictured was a small sun bear cub, with a rather rotund body and bright, pleading eyes. It was trussed up like a chicken.

Right after the photograph was taken by a Japanese researcher in Borneo, the cub was taken to a kitchen and slaughtered as it screamed.”

“About the size of a large dog but with vastly greater bulk (males reach nearly 60 kg), the Malayan sun bear is the world’s smallest bear species and the least known. The only true tropical rainforest bear (a ghostly subspecies of the black bear lives in Canadian rainforests), the sun bear is a big-headed animal with sleek black fur and a yellowish mark of varying size and shape on the chest that serves to distinguish individuals. Feet bearing long curved claws help create suitable openings in tree holes for the animal to search out insects and honey using its very long tongue, as evident in the casualty on the right, which was shot simply because it was seen and its existence deemed intolerable.”

“According to Wong, the sun bear is now “almost gone” from Vietnam, found only in some national parks in Thailand (which incredibly cover barely a tenth of the country’s vast land area), and exists in fragmented populations in Sumatra. In Peninsular Malaysia, the bears are concentrated in forest complexes such as Taman Negara, the Titiwangsa range and the Southern Forest Complex (of which Endau-Rompin National Park is but a slice). Like many other sympatric megafauna, sun bears need undisturbed forests to thrive. So as the trees are felled and land cleared of its carbon-stripping units, the earth simmers and mourns the growing loss of creatures that have survived ice ages but not the fatal pincer of man’s insatiable hunger for land, lumber and lips-smacking mammalian delicacies.

As ecologist Richard Corlett noted recently, many long-studied forests in Southeast Asia have nothing left but deer and boar, and some not at all. And as the elephants, rhinos, orang-utans, gibbons, tapirs and bears vanish, they take with them the future generations of trees that once relied on these beasts to disperse their seeds and carve new clearings in the jungle where saplings might sprout.”

Read “An unbearable future,” by Marcus Ng. The annotated budak, 20 Jun 2007.

See also “Wong Siew Te on emaciated Sunbears.”

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