By Bridgette Dani (BMS Stage 2)

I switched off the car ignition before looking out of the window, only to be greeted by the softness of the sun on my face. I grabbed my backpack and fixed my boots; I strolled around before coming to a halt along the porch where I met you for the first time. All I heard were the sounds of the forest emanating through the dense trees surrounding me. You smiled and led me to a space with unfamiliar faces and I gave a friendly hello. You chaired a meeting later that afternoon and introduced us to a beautiful four-legged creature with a yellow patch stamped on its chest. I was in awe the whole time; never had I thought that I would be here, seeing something that I have only read about in books and articles years ago. A sun bear. You said, “This is Debbie.”  

“Can I hold her?”

“Yes, you can,” you replied with a big smile on your face.

We hiked at dusk. Catching my breath on every incline and with every step, I felt the dew falling on my already sweaty forehead. We bumped into several bears: Om, Mamatai and Simone. What a wonderful sight! Towards the end of our journey, you told me your reason for establishing this conservation centre while I expressed how much this meant to me, because I knew how badly those bears have been treated.

“Through the years.”  

“Through the years.” I stressed and paused.

“I could only sign petitions back then.”

You gazed at me with such pensive eyes, and I knew then that we were on the same page. Then you told me that it was never easy to do the right thing in the face of adversity. Even those closest to you would disapprove. The hurdles you faced, you said, were so difficult that sometimes you thought that you could not do it; that there was no chance of getting your desired outcome; that it was over. These thoughts haunted you over and over. In an instant, I had flashes of images running through time. I realised then. How oddly pleasant to know that you were feeling the same way I did. Perhaps, many others felt that as well.

“Maybe all we need to do is to be around like-minded people.”

You nodded and smiled again; it felt true. We reached a waterfall and I felt the cool breeze brushing my face. Then you said to me with a cracking voice, “Because only they will understand.”

Over the years, sun bears have been targeted by poachers for their bile. Others are confined at roadside zoos or are sold illegally to exotic animal enthusiasts. Similar to elephant and rhino tusks, the bile is claimed by some to have medicinal properties, and could therefore be sold for a high price.

Due to this belief, this tragedy occurs not only in my homeland, but across many regions in Asia. The bile extraction process is inhumane, as the sun bear cubs are raised in captivity and caged in a supine position while bile is extracted from them throughout their lives. Sadly, the exploitation of sun bears lead to a rapid decline in their numbers, but the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre is determined to change that. I’m proud of what the centre has accomplished so far, and I know that it will be a slow but gradual progress in changing local opinion on this issue, but protection of the sun bear population will be worth the effort.

You inspire me, Mr. Wong Siew Te, for you stayed true to your convictions and kept fighting on to realise a noble dream, even when everyone else doubted you. What you did was a truly heroic act.  

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