The sun bear is one of the smallest bear species in the world and also the least known, as their presence is rather hard to document in the wild due to their elusive nature. As a result, their population numbers remain unknown.

Yet, what is no secret is that these animals, like so many others in the world, are under increased threat because of human activity.

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Deforestation, poaching, and the demand for traditional Asian medicine such as bear bile and “exotic” foods like bear paw soup have placed sun bears in danger and they are currently listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.

According to the IUCN, in just the last 30 years, the sun bear population has dropped off by nearly 30 percent in Southeast Asia, where they now only have the Borneo Rainforest to call home.

Thankfully, there are organizations working to help these little bear like Animals Asia, Free the Bears Fund, and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).

As we reported back in early December 2013, the BSBCC recently launched a new campaign called Survival of the Sun Bears to raise awareness about the important role these bears play in the Borneo rainforest ecosystem as well as the threats they face today in hopes to prevent their future extinction.

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The BSBCC, located in Sabah, Malaysia, is the world’s only sun bear conservation center and is home to 28 rescued bears.

Just this past month, one of the BSBCC’s residents, a five-year-old male sun bear named Kudat, finally took his first steps in the forest.

Kudat came into BSBCC’s care back in July 2010 after he and a female sun bear named Panda were rescued from a private mini zoo called Victory Mini Zoo in Kampung Perapat, Kudat, Malaysia.

According to BSBCC’s CEO and founder, Wong Siew Te, the two bears were held illegally in a small concrete floor cage and put on display for the public day in and day out without any enrichment. Upon their rescue, they were discovered to be overweight due to improper feeding (they were fed one chicken daily) and Kudat already had a few bald patches present on his fur.

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Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

 

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Soon after Kudat and Panda’s rescue, they were transported to the BSBCC to finally receive the care and kindness they deserved.

 

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

 

Here, they spent time with other rescued bears, exploring one of the BSBCC’s bear houses…

 

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Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

 

…and playing with enrichment toys that staff offered them to help them develop more natural sun bear behavior.

 

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

 

 

 

Then, two years later, after receiving electric fence training, Kudat took his first steps out into the BSBCC’s new forest enclosure!

 

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

 

He was hesitant to go outdoors at first, sniffing the air near the entrance to his indoor enclosure and pacing around. But, after nearly seven days of training sessions with food laid out on a ramp, he took his first official step out on Dec. 11, 2013.

 

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

 

In the days after, Kudat began exploring the beautiful forest around him, getting reacquainted with the sounds and smells of a place he once called home during his pre-zoo years.

 

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

 

The BSBCC writes that he was very curious about his new environment, marveling at all the tall, climbable trees around him.

 

 

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

 

In no time, he remembered how to be wild sun bear again — digging at dead wood in search of insects like termites and beetles, and exploring and roaming the forest in peace.

 

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

 

Today, Kudat is enjoying his new home and his second chance at freedom like never before, reminding us that this is the life that sun bears and other animals truly deserve.

 

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

To learn more about the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre and bears like Kudat, visit the organization’s website and Facebook, and be sure to check out the BSBCC’s Survival of the Sun Bears campaign, and spread the word!

Lead image source: Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre