Sunday, May 16th, 2010 ↓

sun bears & human-animal conflict

As human populations expand and natural habitats shrink, people and animals are increasing coming into conflict over living space and food. The consequences are often huge: people lose their livestock, crops, property, sometimes even their lives. The animals, regardless of whether they are endangered or threatened, are often killed in retaliation, or to prevent future conflicts.

Human-animal conflict is present everywhere.

In the case of the sun bears in Borneo, the large factor contributing to this is the astonishing large number of plantations, mostly palm oil. Large amounts of primary rainforests were cleared for agricultural purposes; until today agriculture plays a huge part in the country’s economy.

The situation gets extremely tricky for the bears: most wildlife seen in plantations are killed on sight because their foraging methods may have destructive long-terms effects on the agriculture grown. If you chase them way, they will come back – killing is justified as a more immediate solution.

Most bear populations are also isolated, scattered to various parts of Borneo. At times they travel to find a mate, or change territory, and this often involves crossing plantations. Even if the bears have no intention of stealing crops, how do farmers know the difference?

Traditional Medicine also contributes to the illegal trade in their products. I’m not just referring to Chinese medicine – the indigenous locals surprisingly have considerable beliefs that link sun bear body parts with having medicinal properties. Some of these beliefs have decades of history, and this makes it hard to combat. They were also brought up associating medicine as a form of mysticism, usually involving magic. Western medicine is probably something they avoid, because it is alien, different and new.

Also, judging from my personal experience with the medical infrastructure here, access to western medicine is really, really limited. If they don’t expand these facilities and make it easier for locals to have access to them, acclimatisation to this new institution will take a painfully long time. Why wait 3 hours for a person in a white suit to jab, probe and give you weird-looking pills, when your village elder, parents and neighbours ALL tell you that bear gall bladder gives you INSTANT! effects?

I’m not sure how many sun bears are still kept as pets, but I think I can safely assume that it is the rich (usually the Chinese) who sustained this practice. It is a status symbol, a wealth indicator, an avenue to express Man’s naked power over other beings….

These problems are not just exclusive to sun bears. As long as both humans and animals are present together, conflict is inevitable. They don’t have a choice, we just barge in their homes and dirty their floors without asking: it’s the equivalent of forced entry. We, on the other hand, have that decision to make. We don’t have a jail-term if found guilty, but we still have to live with it for the rest of our lives.

Unfortunately some of us don’t have that conscience. Is it too late to breed that?

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