The sun bear Sepilok Center is the only sun bear conservation center in the world. If you’re here in Malaysian Borneo to see wildlife, then a visit here means it’s likely to be your only chance to see sun bears. More correctly named, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), it aims to rehabilitate sun bears so that they can be released into the wild. It also provides a home for those sun bears that have been rescued, but can no longer survive in the wild. It’s a glorious place to visit from Sandakan, and here’s how to get to the Sun Bear Sepilok center, and what to expect when you get here.
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The chances are that you’re coming to Sepilok, or at least the Sandakan area to see wildlife, and my guess is that first on your Borneo wildlife bucket list are the fabulous Orangutans. The great news is that the Orang Utan rehab center entrance is directly opposite the sun bear center, so it makes it easy to visit both places on the same trip. There are a variety of ways to visit the sun bear center. If you’re pushed for time, then it’s easy to combine a small group tour from Sandakan and see the Orang Utans and the sun bears as well as staying overnight at the Sepilok Jungle Resort. You can also come and stay in Sepilok and spend more time here, or you can take the local bus from Sandakan to Sepilok and do this all independently. Our guide on how to go from Sandakan to Sepilok is here.
About the Sun Bear Center at Sepilok
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is the only sun bear conservation center in the world and was founded in 2008 with the aim to rehabilitate bears back to their natural habitat where possible. The center is needed to protect these tiny bears. The numbers of sun bears, which were once found throughout Asia decreased dramatically because of deforestation, commercial hunting, and the pet trade – where bears captured while small, or without a mother are often left in tiny cages.
What Are Sun Bears?
The sun bear is the smallest bear species and the best tree climber – they’re often called the Honey Bear because of their fondness for honey. The sun bear’s name comes from the pale horseshoe shape on their chests, which is said to resemble the setting or rising sun. No two markings are the same.
Their 20-25cm long tongue helps them extract honey from bee hives. They’re also the only bear in SE Asia. They are omnivores and primarily eat invertebrates, fruit, and honey.
The sun bear can grow up to 150 cm (4.92 feet) long, with a weight of 70 kilograms (154 pounds), they usually have one cub and a life expectancy of 30 years. It is the second rarest bear species, after the giant panda (you can read about how we visited the Giant Pandas of Chengdu here)
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
When we visited there were 37 sun bears at the center here in Sepilok, there are now 42. The entrance to the sun bear Sepilok Center is directly opposite the entrance to the Orang Utan rehab center. Our guide to visiting the Orangutan Center in Sepilok is here.
The sun bear center in Sepilok rescued many previously captive sun bears and the staff here help the sun bears to rehabilitate, forage for food and even to socialize. Many of the bears have been kept as pets, chained up, and in a solitary environment. Their story is very much like the bears in Bulgaria at the Dancing Bear Rescue Park, which I wrote about here.
This isn’t a zoo. It’s a rehab center. And so the sun bears have large enclosures, in native forests so that they’re able to start to try and fend for themselves, so if it’s possible, they can be released into the wild in the future.
Opening Times of the Sepilok Sun Bear Center
The sun bear center in Sepilok is open from 09:00 until 15:30, every day. You can check with the center here to see if that changes.
Entrance Prices for the Sun Bear Center in Sepilok
The entrance fee for the sun bear center is 50 RM for adults (kids up to 17 pay 25 RM). Malaysians pay 10 RM (and 5 for Malaysian kids)
What to see at the Sun Bear Center in Sepilok
The center is a much smaller operation than the Orang Utan center. There’s a small TV and video screening area in the entrance area, which shows videos of the founder, and various programs related to bears. We watched several while waiting for the crowd to go down a little and for us to cool down before heading up the walkway to see the sun bears.
There are no specific feeding times that you can watch here (unlike the Orangutans), but there’s an observation platform where you can see into two of the forest enclosures.
Bears that may be released back into the wild are held in different enclosures to minimize their human content. The bears that we saw here are unlikely to be released again because of the trauma they have lived with before their housing at the center.
Perhaps the saddest part of the day was watching one of the bears in a huge open enclosure, pacing two meters one way, then turn around and go back to where he started. Over and over and over again. He had been caged for such a long time, in such a small space that he couldn’t break out of the pattern. The worn path in the dust was heartbreaking.
This bear, shown above will never be released, it’s too traumatized by the time in the cage and couldn’t fend for itself if released.
Another bear – kept in a cage for 18 years will not move from the small enclosure it’s now kept in, not even venturing out for food, staff have to place food right by the entrance for it.
How long to spend at Sepilok’s Sun Bear Center
We spent about 90 minutes at the sun bear center, but most people will spend about an hour here,
How to Get to the Sun Center in Sepilok
The sun bear Center in Sepilok is 30 minutes from Sandakan. You can get there in several ways.
- Take a tour from Sandakan to see the sun bears
- Go from Sandakan to Sepilok by Grab
- Take a taxi from Sandakan to Sepilok
- Take the local bus from Sandakan to Sepilok. There are four buses a day in each direction.
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Final Words on Visiting the Sun Bear Center in Sepilok
While most people head to just see the Orangutans here in Sepilok, coming to see the glorious sun bears and understand more about their environment and why the rescue and rehabilitation center is needed is an easy add-on to your trip. And the visit will stay with you just as much, if not more, than the Orangutans. Don’t miss coming here!
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