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Bears are sought after for use in traditional medicines, for consumption and live as pets. Indonesia, a well-known hub of illegal wildlife trade (IWT), has a thriving trade in bears yet very little is known of the current status of this trade. This lack of information is an obstacle to conservation actions and hinders efforts to end this illegal trade and ultimately protect bears in the wild.

Understanding the drivers behind the trade, the sources of the bears and other relevant dynamics is key to developing a strategy to counter this crime. Investigating legal deterrents, such as seizures and penalties is also essential in order to better support enforcement efforts and to inform policy decisions. While some work has been done to collect and compile this information, major components of data are missing or outdated, hampering conservation efforts.

With financial support from Bears in Mind, the team from Monitor Conservation Research Society (Monitor) intends to fill these knowledge gaps and use the resulting information to support effective enforcement efforts, strengthen national policies and to catalyse conservation efforts in Indonesia to better protect bears from the illegal wildlife trade.

Ongoing development and uncontrolled human expansion in the target landscape, which used to be one of the richest lowland forest areas of Eastern Borneo, is breaking up vital connectivity for wildlife and affecting ecosystem functioning. The Pro Natura team is trying to find ways to increase [government and land use stakeholder] commitment towards [sun bear landscape] conservation and coordinated landscape planning, bringing different stakeholders together and matching spatial planning between districts and provincial government levels.

Camera trapping is planned in various forest/tree covered areas between Sungai Wain and the Bukit Suharto Forest, covering much of the INHUTANI Forest Estate, which has a mixture of protected forest, rubber, acacia, palm oil and other landuses. This camera trapping will be augmented with sign survey work to further verify sun bear movement in this landscape. It will also be necessary to collect, collate and analyze all spatial plans relevant to this landscape including provincial and district spatial plans, forest function allocations, FMU management plans, and concessionaire management plans. It will also be necessary to analyze most recently available remote sensing imagery, both from satellites and UAVs.

In East Kalimantan (Indonesia), Sun bear habitat is rapidly shrinking due to forest conversion and fires for palm oil monoculture development. As a result of this Sun bears are now commonly held as pets and conflict with humans occurs when bears enter communities or feed on crops. Despite this, the Balikpapan municipality decided in 2001 to make the Sun bear its mascot. This has led to a better protection of the last bit of primal forest where bears live (the Sungai Wain forest), and a heightened awareness among the locals. The sanctuary is surrounded by an elevated bridge. From this bridge visitors can see the bears play, climb, and dig. Local guides are trained to give visitors information.

Bears in Mind has funded the construction of the center, development and printing of a number of awareness materials like design and production of a new sun bear activity booklet, re-Ā­printing of Sun Bear booklet for distribution among visitors, production of variety of Sun bear promotional materials and improved visitor education through guide training.

Currently, 2024, Bears in Mind has committed itself to the much needed repairs / maintenance to visitor boardwalk, the Sun bear holding area and the Sun bear enclosure.

Threats to the sun bear
Visitors at the KWPLH Education Centre can access information through painted panels, paintings, bear statues, information panels and interactive displays. All the education material is being made by local artists. Local goverment has been very positive since the start of the project, and they contribute in the daily management costs. The Sun bear or Malayan bear is a protected species in Indonesia, but law enforcement is not very strict. Because large parts of the forest are still turned into plantations or cut down for agriculture, many bears loose their habitat. In search for food they sometimes come too close to human settements. Cubs are taken from the wild and are often kept as a pet, until they grow too large (and dangerous) to maintain and end their life in misery in a small cage or are sold for meat or other parts.