The Sabah Loop: Wilma & the Sun Bears

sun bear centreNovember 11, 2018: After breakfasting at the hotel, we packed up our gear and backtracked the 100 metres up the road toward the orangutan rehabilitation centre. What a difference from yesterday. On this morning, the parking lot was full to overflowing with a ridiculous number of large tour busses and smaller vans disgorging flock after flock of package tourists all intent on having a close encounter with an orangutan. We had no intention of joining the throng, intent instead on heading across the road to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

After checking in and paying the entrance fee, we headed to the observation platform overlooking a large wire enclosed section of natural forest that we were told houses the juvenile sun bears. We watched. We waited. We peered up into the trees. Zip. Nada. Nothing.

The whole complex has a number of raised walkways through the jungle, so we headed further in to the centre. There were a group of workers fixing a closed off section of the walkway, and making a lot of noise with a variety of power tools. Maybe that had something to do with the absence of sun bears. We were resigned to not seeing much of anything.

Then again, maybe it was the workers that attracted Wilma. As we meandered along the walkways we came across a lone orangutan hanging out on the railing watching the maintenance crew off in the distance. At first we held back, but Wilma didn’t seem to mind our presence. We approached her slowly. She put out her hand to touch Chris’ hand.

The Many Faces of Wilma

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d bet that Wilma was once somebody’s pet. She certainly wasn’t shy around us, and I’m pretty sure she was actively posing for our cameras. Some of her expressions were priceless and it was easy to read a number of different emotions on her face, but there were never any signs of agitation, aggressive or frustration. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, a remarkable experience.

After our extended rendezvous with Wilma, we returned to the sun bear viewing platform where we were delighted to find four bears hanging out.

Sun bears are the smallest member of the bear family and they can be found throughout southeast Asia. They are excellent tree climbers and live on a diet of insects, fruit and honey. Their numbers are on the decline coinciding with habitat loss, hunting for meat and body parts, and poaching to obtain young animals for the pet trade. Sun bears can bring very high prices on the black market. Most of the 45 elusive bears at the centre have been rescued from captivity and are being rehabilitated.

These little guys actually looked a little bored as they wandered around the enclosure, often looking beyond the electrified fence that kept them in place. Hopefully they can be released to the wild one day.

We backtracked once more to find Wilma now lounging on the walkway in her glorious goddess pose. What a ham.

Next up, we head to the Kinabatangan River for a different type of wildlife experience. Stay tuned.

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