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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Author/Editor: N. Sivasothi
Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore.

Made with Samizdat,
based on PHPosxom,
based on Blosxom.

05 Jul 2007 - Raffles Museum News has shifted to http://news.rafflesmuseum.net

Tue 19 Jun 2007

Marcus Ng on Wong Siew Te's Sun bear talk

Category : bejc

Marcus Ng came away with a new understanding about the Sun bear's biology and a grim understandding about the fate of the the sun bear in Malaysia and the South East Asia, after attending Wong Siew Te's talk on "The ecology and conservation of the sun bear in Malaysia."

"About halfway through his presentation, bear researcher Wong Siew Te showed a duotone slide. Pictured was a small sun bear cub, with a rather rotund body and bright, pleading eyes. It was trussed up like a chicken.

Right after the photograph was taken by a Japanese researcher in Borneo, the cub was taken to a kitchen and slaughtered as it screamed."

"About the size of a large dog but with vastly greater bulk (males reach nearly 60 kg), the Malayan sun bear is the world's smallest bear species and the least known. The only true tropical rainforest bear (a ghostly subspecies of the black bear lives in Canadian rainforests), the sun bear is a big-headed animal with sleek black fur and a yellowish mark of varying size and shape on the chest that serves to distinguish individuals. Feet bearing long curved claws help create suitable openings in tree holes for the animal to search out insects and honey using its very long tongue, as evident in the casualty on the right, which was shot simply because it was seen and its existence deemed intolerable."

"According to Wong, the sun bear is now "almost gone" from Vietnam, found only in some national parks in Thailand (which incredibly cover barely a tenth of the country's vast land area), and exists in fragmented populations in Sumatra. In Peninsular Malaysia, the bears are concentrated in forest complexes such as Taman Negara, the Titiwangsa range and the Southern Forest Complex (of which Endau-Rompin National Park is but a slice). Like many other sympatric megafauna, sun bears need undisturbed forests to thrive. So as the trees are felled and land cleared of its carbon-stripping units, the earth simmers and mourns the growing loss of creatures that have survived ice ages but not the fatal pincer of man's insatiable hunger for land, lumber and lips-smacking mammalian delicacies.

As ecologist Richard Corlett noted recently, many long-studied forests in Southeast Asia have nothing left but deer and boar, and some not at all. And as the elephants, rhinos, orang-utans, gibbons, tapirs and bears vanish, they take with them the future generations of trees that once relied on these beasts to disperse their seeds and carve new clearings in the jungle where saplings might sprout."

Read "An unbearable future," by Marcus Ng. The annotated budak, 20 Jun 2007.

See also "Wong Siew Te on emaciated Sunbears."

Posted at 9:15PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,

Mon 18 Jun 2007

Wong Siew Te on emaciated Sunbears

Category : bejc


There were grim moments at Wong Siew Te's sunbear seminar last afternoon. In an email to FOYers, I said:

"Speaker Siew Te made an observation about the critical role figs trees play. In 1997/8, the region experienced the most severe El Nino event. This led to the local extinction of fig wasps (due to direct impact and the haze). In the absence of pollinators in 1999, fig trees aborted their fruits [he cited Rhett Harrison's work], and there was a famine in Sabah and Kalimantan, at least (this is where there were sun bear researchers).

Orang utans managed to resort to other food sources like young shoots and plant sap, but animals like sun bears and bearded pigs starved. All his six radio-collared sun bears were emaciated and two died (see photo). I know this led to starving bearded pigs attempting to raid field centres as well. This is suspected to be a reason for the very low density of large animals in Bornean rainforests."

You can read more from the links at his seminar page or wait for Marcus who will blog more about this later.

Posted at 5:40PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,

Wed 13 Jun 2007

Mon 18 Jun 2007: 1pm - Wong Siew Te on Sun Bears of Malaysia

Category : bejc

Meetings of the NUS DBS Biodiversity & Ecology Journal Club

"The ecology and conservation of the sun bear in Malaysia"

Wong Siew Te
Wildlife Biology Program,
College of Forestry and Conservation,
University of Montana
Missoula, MT 59812 USA

Mon 18 Jun 2007: 1pm - 2pm

NUS Dept Biol. Scis. Conference Room
Blk S3, Level 5, Department of Biological Sciences
The National University of Singapore
Science Drive 4
Visitors may park at Carpark 10
See map.

Host - N. Sivasothi
Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, NUS

About the talk - In first half of the talk, Wong Siew Te will talk about the ecology and behavior of sun bear and his research works on sun bear in Sabah, Malaysia. The second part of the talk will focus on the threats and other conservation issues facing by the sun bear in Malaysia.

Articles by Tan Cheng Li in
The Star (08 Aug 2006):
"Fighting for survival."
"Friend of bears."

About the speaker - Wong Siew Te was born and raised in Penang, Malaysia. He earned a Diploma in Veterinary and Animal Science from National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, Taiwan, and both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Wildlife Biology from University of Montana, USA. He is now a Ph. D candidate in Fish and Wildlife Biology, University of Montana, and conducting his doctorate field study on Malayan sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) and bearded pigs (Sus barbatus) in Sabah, Malaysia. Wong studied the ecology of Malayan sun bears in a rainforest of Malaysian Borneo as his M.Sc. thesis project [online pdf of his thesis]. The study contributed our knowledge on many ecological aspects of sun bear and promoted various conservation issues related to Bornean rainforest.

Beside bears and pigs, Wong's interest also include the other medium and large mammals especially carnivores, the interactions between wildlife and tropical rainforest ecosystem, and mast fruiting in Southeast Asian. Wong was appointed as the first co-chair of the Sun Bear Expert Team for the IUCN/SSC Bear Specialist Group from 2002-2005. He is now member of IUCN/SSC Bear Specialist Group and Pigs, Peccaries, and Hippos Specialist Group.


  • Bornean Sunbear and Bearded Pig Research and Conservation Project - borneanbearpigproject.org; see Raffles Museum News, 11 Mar 2006
  • "Fighting for survival," by Tan Cheng Li. The Star, 08 Aug 2006.
  • "Friend of bears," by Tan Cheng Li. The Star, 08 Aug 2006.
  • Wong, S. T., C. W. Servheena & L. Ambub, 2004. Home range, movement and activity patterns, and bedding sites of Malayan sun bears Helarctos malayanus in the Rainforest of Borneo. Biological Conservation, 119 (2): 169-181. [pdf].
  • The Ecology of the Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) in the lowlandd tropical rainforest of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. By Wong Siew Te. MSc thesis, The University of Montana, 2002. [pdf]
  • Personal site - wongsiewte.org
  • Land Empowerment Animals People webpage - leapspiral.org

Did you know? - The sun bear, Helarctos malayanus (Raffles, 1821) was first described by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (type locality "Sumatra") in:

Raffles, T. S. 1821. Descriptive catalogue of a zoological collection, made on account of the honourable East India Company, in the island of Sumatra and its vicinity, under the direction of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor of Fort Marlborough; with additional notices illustrative of the natural history of those countries. Transactions of the Linnaean Society of London, 13:239–274.

Posted at 4:11PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,

Fri 16 Mar 2007

The clouded leopard of Borneo and Sumatra is Neofelis diardi, new species

Category : southeastasia

The media are reporting on the Current Biology paper on Neofelis diardi that was published last December. The Environment News Service report seems to be the most comprehensive and includes a few photos from the original paper.

Photo of live clouded leopards in Kitchener et al. (2006) from Sabah
by Siew Te Wong (left), and Thailand, by Lon Grassman (right).

"Clouded Leopard of Borneo Identified as a New Cat Species."
Environment News Service, 15 Mar 2007.

GLAND, Switzerland, March 15, 2007 (ENS) - The clouded leopards found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra belong to an entirely new species of cat that diverged from the mainland population of clouded leopards some 1.4 million years ago, new genetic research shows.

Based on their general physical appearance, all clouded leopards once were considered to belong to a single species. But recent genetic analysis has shown that the ones found on Borneo are so different that they are now classed as a separate species.

"Genetic research results clearly indicate that the clouded leopards of Borneo should be considered a separate species," said Dr. Stephen O'Brien, head of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at the U.S. National Cancer Institute. "DNA tests highlighted around 40 differences between the two species."

This is comparable to differences between other Panthera species. Lions and leopards, for instance, have 56 nucleotide differences.

Researchers at the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity say the differences between the Borneo and mainland clouded leopard are comparable to the differences between species such as lion and tiger or tiger and leopard, jaguar and snow leopard.

"We estimate that Bornean clouded leopards diverged from mainland populations during the Pleistocene, when recurring episodes of global cooling and warming created opportunities for population isolation," write O'Brien and his colleagues in the December 5, 2006 issue of "Current Biology."

"The Sunda Shelf, between the Indonesian archipelago and Vietnam, was repeatedly exposed and then covered by changing sea levels. However, even when the archipelago was connected to the mainland, ancient river systems may have continued to isolate modern Borneo," they wrote, explaining the factors that allowed the Borneo clouded leopards to develop into a species separate from clouded leopards on the mainland.

The combined results of DNA analysis point to a one to three million year difference in separation, while the accepted distance between species is one to two million years.

The results of the genetic study are supported by separate research on geographical variation in the clouded leopard, based mainly on fur patterns and coloration of skins held in museums and collections.

"The moment we started comparing the skins of the mainland clouded leopard and the leopard found on Borneo, it was clear we were comparing two different species," said Dr. Andrew Kitchener, from the Department of Natural Sciences, National Museums Scotland. "It's incredible that no one has ever noticed these differences."

The Borneo clouded leopard has small cloud markings, many distinct spots within the cloud markings, greyer fur, and a double dorsal stripe. Overall, it is darker than the mainland species.

Clouded leopards from the mainland have large clouds on their skin with fewer, often faint, spots within the cloud markings, and they are lighter in color, with a tendency toward tawny-colored fur and a partial double dorsal stripe.

"For over a hundred years we have been looking at this animal and never realized it was unique," said Stuart Chapman, WWF International Coordinator of the Heart of Borneo programme. "The fact that Borneo's top predator is now considered a separate species further emphasises the importance of conserving the Heart of Borneo."

A total number of 5,000 to 11,000 Bornean clouded leopards are estimated to live on the world's third largest island.

The total number in Sumatra is estimated in the range of 3,000 to 7,000 individuals. Further studies are needed to obtain better population data.

Secretive, mid-sized carnivores, clouded leopards are the biggest predators on Borneo, sometimes as large as small panthers. They are noted for having the longest canine teeth relative to body size of any cat.

Destruction of their habitat is the main threat they face.

The last great forest home of the Bornean clouded leopard is a 220,000 square kilometer wild, mountainous region – about five times the size of Switzerland – covered with equatorial rainforest in the center of the island known as the Heart of Borneo.

Last month in Bali, Indonesia, the ministers of the three Bornean governments – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia – signed an historic Declaration to conserve and sustainably manage the Heart of Borneo. This has put the area on the global stage of conservation priorities.

Clouded leopards occur in most forested habitats of Borneo, from the coast to interior mountain ranges. Most animals prefer Borneo's dense lowland and hill rainforests. They usually avoid open areas with few trees and are very sensitive to human disturbances.

Bornean clouded leopards feed on monkeys, mouse deer, barking deer, young bearded pigs and sambar deer, which are stalked on the ground or jumped upon from tree branches. Occasionally birds and reptiles such as monitor lizards are eaten as well.

The clouded leopard was first scientifically described in 1821 by the British naturalist Edward Griffith. The scientific name of the clouded leopard from the mainland is Neofelis nebulosa, while the Bornean clouded leopard is now called Neofelis diardi.

The identification of the new species comes just weeks after a WWF report showed that scientists had identified at least 52 new species of animals and plants over the past year on Borneo.

The global conservation organization says these repeated findings show how crucial it is to conserve the habitat and species of Borneo.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2006. All Rights Reserved.

Se also Science Daily.

Relevant papers:

Posted at 3:24AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,

Sat 11 Mar 2006

Bornean Sunbear and Bearded Pig Research and Conservation Project

Category : southeastasia

Wong Siew Te has setup the Bornean Sunbear and Bearded Pig Research and Conservation Project webpage on behalf of the team conducting research on the two species:

"The Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) and the bearded pig (Sus barbatus) are sympatric species that live in the tropical rainforests of Borneo and Southeast Asia.

Both species overlap in certain aspects of their food habits and habitat use and fulfill important ecological functions: seed dispersal, seed predation, and seed bed preparation.

Malayan sun bears and bearded pigs are forest-dependent species, thus any human disturbance of their habitat has the power to impact survival. However, the nature and extent of this impact is unknown.

Very little is understood about either species, which increases their vulnerability and makes conservation and management programs nearly impossible to implement."

We look forward to interesting news from this project!

Posted at 7:07AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,