After hiking Mount Kinabalu, we hopped on a 35 minute flight to Sandakan in Eastern Sabah, Borneo.
It was finally time to see some wildlife!
For four days, we planned to stay in Sepilok, a small town 20 minutes from Sandakan.
While Sepilok is most famous for its Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, it is also home the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre and Rainforest Discovery Centre.
We planned to visit them all.
We booked ourselves into the Sepilok Nature Resort for four nights. The resort is beautiful featuring individual bungalows amongst the jungle and located only a five minute walk from the orangutans and sun bears.
We couldn’t wait to spend the next four days here.
On our first day, we set out to conquer both the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. On the advice of other guests at the resort, we planned to first visit the Bornean sun bears at 9:00 a.m., and then visit the orangutans. They explained that the tour buses coming from Sandakan visit the orangutans first.
By doing the opposite, we were likely to beat the crowds.
And we LOVE beating the crowds.
After breakfast, we headed on our short walk down the street to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (“BSBCC”) is the only sun bear centre in the world. It was founded in 2008 to provide care and rehabilitation to rescued sun bears, and to increase awareness of sun bears internationally.
Malayan sun bears are only found in Southeast Asia. They are the least studied bear and the second rarest bear species, after the giant panda.
The Bornean sun bear is the smallest species, approximately one-half the size of other sun bears. This is thought to be an evolutionary adaption over time due to food scarcity in Borneo.
Adult sun bears are about 120–150 cm (47–59 in.) long and weigh 27–80 kg (60–176 lb). Males are 10–20% larger than females. The most distinguishing feature of the sun bear is its exceptionally long tongue that can be extended 20–25 cm (7.9–9.8 in.) to extract insects and honey. For this reason, sun bears are commonly known as ‘honey bears.’
Sun bears are continually threatened by forest degradation, illegal hunting for bear parts, and poaching to obtain young cubs for the pet trade. As a result, young sun bears have been found living in unnatural captive conditions in Sabah, with no access to outdoor areas.
There are currently 44 rescued ex-captive sun bears residing at the BSBCC. The facility includes large forested enclosures to provide a natural environment suited to the needs and welfare of the sun bears, and to facilitate their rehabilitation back into the wild (bsbcc.org.my).
When we arrived at the Conservation Centre, we sat and watched a 30 minute presentation on sun bears and the work performed by the Centre. I had to admit, I had never heard of a sun bear before and I definitely didn’t know they were endangered.
Also, as you can see – we definitely beat the crowds.
The video was an excellent introduction to the sun bears, and the more I watched, the more I fell in love.
After the presentation, we were ready to head to the platforms to view the sun bears.
I ran up to the railing with excitement.
Almost immediately, Kevin and I spotted a couple of bears on the ground and one in the trees!
Some relaxed lazily on the tree stump while others climbed in the trees actively searching for food in the branches.
Kevin and I took shot after shot but couldn’t get close enough.
Eventually, one of the Conservation staff setup a telescope for viewing the bears.
“Would you like to see how to take a photo with the lens?”
We stationed ourselves at the lens for the next 30 minutes capturing the most amazing shots and videos.
Up close, we were able to see the markings on their chests. Their name comes from the pale horseshoe shape on their chests, which is said to resemble the setting or rising sun. No two markings are the same.
Overall, it was an amazing experience at the Conservation Centre learning about these beautiful bears. It was even better with only a few other visitors to share the experience.
For more information on the Bornean Sun Bears or how you can make a contribution (adopt, volunteer or donate), please visit bsbcc.org.my.
Next stop, the ORANGUTANS!