In an incident happened at an oil palm plantation along the Bintangor-Sibu Road on Friday, 30 January, a group of Indonesian plantation workers in Sarawak mistreated and beat up a sick Malaysian sun bear that wandered into the plantation
According to the Borneo Post, it charged at the workers. One of them then hit it until it passed out. The absence of hair on its body made them think the sun bear was a "strange-looking animal."
The worker did not inform the authorities about the incident
“We were shocked. None of us has ever seen such thing. One of us then hit the animal until it appeared to have passed out,” a worker said, adding that the animal had sharp claws. “It could be a rare species of bear. When it regained consciousness, we forced it to go back into the jungle,” he said.theborneopost.com
However, the Borneo Post later reported that the "strange-looking creature" was identified as a sun bear with skin disease. This was confirmed by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) via SMS.
A spokesperson from Sarawak Forestry Corporation told thesundaypost yesterday that the observation was based on several characteristics of the creature, namely a black nose and long claws.
"It is highly possible that the animal was sick, as it appeared to be losing hair. We are not sure what sickness. Due to floods, our Swift Wildlife Action Team (SWAT) is unable to do any rescuing. Therefore, we can only confirm once we rescue this animal."
"The reason why it appeared at the plantation (on Friday) is because its habitat had been flooded," the spokesperson said, adding that there is a secondary forest near the plantation.
Reacting on the incident, environmental group Naturetalksback condemned the plantation workers for mistreating the sick animal
The group's Facebook page posted, "the so-called 'Malaysian Chupacabra' is a sun bear, that lost its fur either from disease or because it was abused/shaved."
Further adding that, "so many Malaysians are fawning over the 1600 paper mache panda bears, meanwhile a local endangered bear gets the living daylights beaten out of it, is filmed, and paraded on the interwebs as a "freak of nature" or a "monster"."
Speaking to The Rakyat Post, the group's Facebook page admin Cyren Wong, who is an environmentalist, said that the animal was a sun bear, which was probably suffering from skin disease
“By letting it go into the wild again, it might spread its disease within its species or possibly beyond as well,” he said, adding that the workers should have at least tried to detain the animal until the authorities arrived to do the necessary.
Wong said what irked him and fellow members of the group was that the animal was made out to look like a creature from an episode of X-Files.
The environmentalist lamented on the lack of awareness among members of the public on their local and unique species of animals
“These days, so many Malaysians are getting excited over 1,600 plastic panda bears, but our own local bear gets beaten up. If that particular creature turned out to be a fur-less dog or cat, we can imagine the public outrage and attention that it would receive compared to this animal.”
Wong added that in the future, should anyone find an animal in such a condition, they should inform wildlife officials or any non-governmental organisations related to wild animals immediately.
“The animal should have been detained and the authorities should have been notified in case it was harbouring any disease that could spread or decimate the already delicate wild population.”
He added that "while we're all getting on the band wagon to conserve China's iconic panda bear, let's not forget our own species of Malaysian bears." The sun bear is also known as the honey bear for its voracious appetite for honeycombs and honey.
The two major threats to sun bears are habitat loss and commercial hunting. In areas where deforestation is actively occurring, they are mainly threatened by the loss of forest habitat and forest degradation arising from clear-cutting for plantation development, unsustainable logging practices, illegal logging both within and outside protected areas and forest fires.
The main predator of sun bears throughout its range by far is man. Commercial poaching of bears for the wildlife trade is a considerable threat in most countries. Traditional Chinese medicine shops in Sarawak and Sabah offered sun bear gall bladders.