SANDAKAN: Two Malayan sun bears have been released into the wild after undergoing about six years of rehabilitation at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) near Sepilok here.
The adult female sun bears nicknamed Debbie and Damai were released into the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu, yesterday.
The protected species were among 44 sun bears currently cared for by BSBCC.
They were placed at the BSBCC in January and November in 2012 respectively, shortly after being rescued.
Debbie was purchased by a man from Tuaran and was surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department while Damai was found wandering in a car park near Kota Kinabalu.
Penang-born wildlife biologist Dr Wong Siew Te, who is also founder of BSBCC, said the bears were fitted with Global Positioning System satellite collars, enabling the centre to monitor their movements on a regular basis.
“On March 6, a final medical check-up was conducted by Dr Nabila Sarkawi. Then the following day at 3am, we left Sepilok in four vehicles and drove to the helipad at Tabin Wildlife Reserve Headquarters.
“The cages (with the bears inside) were transported by cargo net hanging below a helicopter. They travelled high above the treetops to the identified release site at the mud volcano in the middle of the reserve,” he said.
At the release site, the bear cages were moved under the forest canopy where they were opened, giving the two bears their much-awaited freedom, Wong added.
The release was a joint effort between the BSBCC, Sabah Wildlife Department, and Sabah Forestry Department.
“We were very lucky the weather was very favourable and the sun bears were delivered to the release site by helicopter with ease.
“Damai and Debbie may face many challenges to survive but this is the best life we can offer them in the hope that they can propagate and maintain a healthy sun bear population in Tabin Wildlife Reserve,” said Wong.
The sun bear is a totally protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997. Offenders are liable to a fine of not less than RM50,000 but not exceeding RM250,000 and a jail term of not less than one year but not exceeding five years or to both for the possession of a sun bear or any of its parts.
Since 2008, BSBCC has cared for 56 sun bears, nine of which died from various causes, while two others were released into the wild after rehabilitation.
Another wild adult sun bear escaped after 16 hours at BSBCC.
Wong said the centre is expected to release another two sun bears this year, adding that BSBCC raised money from tourism to care for the bears.