I recently returned from a trip to Malaysian Borneo where we were filming a story for the feature length documentary BEARTREK. The film is about my global adventure to some of the world’s wildest places by motorcycle. At each of 6 locations we tell stories about the unusual bear species, and the people who are working for their conservation (more info at: www.BEARTREK.org).
The island of Borneo is a truly incredible place and our time there was magical – one of life’s experiences for sure. As with the North Cascades grizzly bear, sun bears in Borneo represent wilderness. Sun bears need diverse, healthy, tropical rainforest to survive. We think. Actually, very little is known about this super elusive bear species – there are only 2 or 3 sun bear specialists in the world – each of them working in very difficult field conditions with small, highly secretive animals. Among the species that share this tropical ecosystem with sun bears are orangutans, elephants, rhinos, proboscis monkeys, gibbons, and a plethora of birds and insect life. It was a sensory overload, and I have never been anywhere where the presence of bears so clearly represented healthy biodiversity (the reserve where we filmed a sun bear cub is close to being the most biodiverse place in Asia!).
As with almost all of the bear species, grizzly bears and sun bears qualify in three ways to represent the important characteristics of an ecosystem. They are indicator, keystone and umbrella species. Very few animals qualify under all three. Indicator species denote intact, healthy ecosystems; umbrella species need large, wild areas of habitat that incidentally shelter many other species of plants and animals; keystone species play an important functional role in maintaining ecological health. Bears therefore make ideal targets for conservation as they represent the needs of large, wild places that we all depend upon.
Highlights of the trip included tracking and locating 87 wild elephants, observing wild orangutans for hours in the trees above, the warm friendships we developed with local villagers, and of course preparing ‘Cerah’, a ten month old orphaned sun bear cub for a life in the wild. Our time with her in the rainforest was fascinating, hilarious, and fun.
The photo features BEARTREK conservationist and GBOP Director Chris Morgan with ‘Cerah’ (pronounced “ChurA”, meaning “bright” in Malay) during BEARTREK filming in Borneo. Cerah is a 10 month old orphaned sun bear cub that is being prepared for life in the wild thanks to the work of one of BEARTREK’s featured bear biologists, Siew Te Wong.