KOTA KINABALU: Penang-born wildlife biologist Dr Wong Siew Te is a living proof that the most ordinary of people can make an extraordinary impact.

The 48-year-old biologist was featured this week as one of the CNN Heroes for his sun bear conservation work.

Wong was featured in two short videos where he spoke about how the Borneo rainforest is slowly disappearing and that sun bears are threatened by hunting and poaching.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer is also seen caring and feeding milk to sun bear Mary, who was kept as a pet and rescued from a local hunter.

“Mary was either six or seven-month-old when she was rescued in 2011. She was kept in a private house in Ranau.

“When we first met the cub, she was in a bad condition. She was very malnourished and weak because the owner did not take proper care of her. She was kept as a pet, which is illegal but at that time no action was taken against the owner,” he told New Straits Times when contacted.

Mary is now among 43 sun bears currently placed and looked after by Wong and his team at the centre, which is just next door to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan.

Since its establishment in 2008, the centre has cared for 55 sun bears, 10 of which died from various causes, while two others were released into the wild after rehabilitation.

Wong, who is also a tropical ecologist, said Mary’s previous owner had claimed he found her wandering alone in a plantation while hunting but the conservationist believed that was not the case.

“It was most likely he encountered a female sun bear with a cub and killed the mother, taking Mary as a pet. It is impossible for a baby sun bear to wander off alone in the forest.

“The cubs will always stick to their mother. So it is most likely, Mary’s mother was killed. Although there is no evidence, it is not a rocket science. It’s common sense,” he said.

Wong’s interest in studying about sun bears began when he was studying wildlife biology at the University of Montana in the United States in 1994.

He answered the call of a professor was looking for a Malaysian student to carry out a study on sun bears.

Since then, he said his passion had led him to establish the first sun bear conservation centre in the world.

Speaking on the sun bear situation in Sabah, Dr Wong said the forest is getting smaller as the human population increased, making wildlife vulnerable to habitat fragmentation, poaching and hunting.

“We really need to work hard on anti-poaching and to stop people from buying wildlife products. Wildlife crime and illegal slaughtering of wildlife should be treated like human murder case.

“All the governmental departments, non-governmental organisations and local communities must work together to combat poaching of wildlife and we need to really enforce strict laws,” he said.

Wong said he was honoured to be featured on CNN Heroes and hopes his conservation work would reach the people across the globe so more will learn about sun bear.

CNN Heroes is created by the American Cable News Network to honour individuals who make extraordinary contributions to humanitarian aid and make a difference in their communities.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer, Dr Wong Siew Te bottle feed a rescued sun bear cub named Wawa. NSTP file pic.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer, Dr Wong Siew Te bottle feed a rescued sun bear cub named Wawa. NSTP file pic.