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Attack of a Sun Bear

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A Batek man and his son were attacked by a sun bear in the forest near Malaysia’s Taman Negara National Park on Tuesday last week and the nine-year old boy was seriously injured. Many Malaysian news sources reported on the incident over the next several days.

A forest river in the Taman Negara National Park

A forest river in the Taman Negara National Park (Photo by Peter Gronemann on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The attack occurred at a river near the National Park. The New Straits Times reported that the boy, Dee Usop, and his 39-year old father, Usop Ching, both from the community of Aring near the park, were searching for sandalwood in the forest when they were attacked by the bear. Another newspaper, The Star, indicated that the attack occurred around 3:00 in the afternoon. The father suffered minor wounds on his back but the boy was badly clawed around his face. The incident occurred in the forest near Aring 8, in Gua Musang District, the southern part of Malaysia’s Kelantan state.

Although they were both covered in blood, the father managed to carry his son for an hour until they encountered some farm workers. One, a 41-year old man named Fan, drove the pair to a clinic for help. The father told the rescuer that they had not seen the bear until it was too late.

A Malayan sun bear at a zoo in Malaysia

A Malayan sun bear at a zoo in Malaysia (Photo by bob|P-&-S on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The Malay language news service Utusan added further details. Usop Ching told the paper that he did everything he could to try and save his son. He punched and kicked the bear repeatedly, he said, using stones and pieces of wood to try and beat off the animal’. After 30 minutes of fighting, the bear finally left the pair and fled into the forest. Usop told Utusan that he had just completed clearing some brush around his orchard when the bear attacked.

Usop was bathing in the Lebir River, while Dee was up on a cliff, Utusan reported. Suddenly the bear rushed at the boy and swiped him with its paw, causing him to scream. Dee was first treated at a clinic in Aring and was then transferred to the Gua Musang Hospital. A follow-up news story dated Friday, February 10, said that Dee was still lying unconscious in the intensive care unit of the hospital, though he had begun moving his hands and feet. The boy’s mother was staying with her son; the father was discharged from the hospital since his injuries were not very serious.

A Batek boy

A Batek boy (Photo by Cleffairy from his blog Over a Cuppa Tea, Creative Commons license)

The news report from Friday provided a possible reason for the bear’s attack. One of Dee’s uncles, Neat Leaf, 27, suggested that a possible factor might have been the destruction of the forest habitat locally for the development of plantations—presumably the palm oil that blankets the region around Aring. In the words of the Google translation of the article, he said, “I think maybe the bear was out to look for food in the surrounding area.” Unfortunately, the hungry animal encountered the man and his son.

In a paper presented at a conference in November 2011, Kirk Endicott, an anthropologist who has done fieldwork among the Batek, said that when he studied them in the Upper Lebir River watershed in the 1970s, the Batek collected forest products such as fragrant woods and rattan to sell to traders and they harvested game animals and wild foods from the forest for consumption.

Deforestation in the Gua Musang District of Kelantan

Deforestation in the Gua Musang District of Kelantan (Photo by Wakx on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

A more recent news report described the many damaging effects of rampant logging operations in the Lebir River drainage basin, especially the harm they are causing to the Batek. The literature supports the supposition by Neat Leaf, the boy’s uncle, that a possible reason for the attack could be the logging. An article in the Wikipedia mentions that sun bears can be quite fierce when they are surprised in the forest, even though they are the smallest members of the bear family, weighing anywhere from 60 to 176 lb (27 – 80 kg).

More to the point, a thorough journal article by Wong, Leader-Williams and Linkie (2015) on managing sun bear conflicts with humans in Sumatra pointed out that “sun bears rarely injure humans” (p.256), although they are known to attack farmers along the edges of forests. The authors came to the same general conclusion as the Batek uncle did: destroying forest habitat produces conflicts along the borders. In addition to their age-old fear of attacks by tigers in the forests, the Batek now may have to become more wary of the small bears.

 

Rural Thai Girls Get Help

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An NGO in Thailand is helping Rural Thai girls from the poorer areas of the Isaan region form desirable career goals and then find ways to meet them. A news report last week described the work of the Pratthanadee Foundation and its Better Me workshops, which try to develop a sense of empowerment among teenage girls who come from disadvantaged homes in the Ubon Ratchathani province of Isaan, the northeastern section of the nation.

Thai pupils in scouting clothing gathering at the Na Wa High School, Nakhon Phanom province of Isaan

Thai pupils in scouting clothing gathering at the Na Wa High School, Nakhon Phanom province of Isaan (Photo by Mattes in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The foundation works in the rural schools of Isaan. Sarochinee Unyawachsumrith, the managing director of the foundation and of the Better Me workshops, talks to the girls in a rural school surrounded by rice paddies and tells them to imagine their futures. “What do you see in your mind? What feelings do you have? Now draw it!” the lady, nicknamed Beer, says to the group.

The girls sit on the floor drawing pictures of women professionals—or flowers or rainbows. But one, Fai, draws a picture of a bank surrounded by coins. Her dream is to earn as much as she can so she can support her family. Beer tells the reporter later that the girl is not atypical of the poor family backgrounds of young people in the region.  “But we are here to tell them about the risks if they choose the wrong job, what options they have and, perhaps for the first time, to see their own [potentials],” she says.

Sex workers. Sex workers in Pattaya, Thailand

Sex workers in Pattaya, Thailand (Photo by Rak-Tai in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The fact is that many of the maids, housekeepers, waitresses and sex workers in major cities such as Bangkok come from the poorer parts of Isaan. Fai lives with her younger sister while both of their parents do construction work in another province. Fai’s friend Nan and her younger sister are cared for by their grandmother while their parents work elsewhere.

It is that sort of home life and hopelessness that the Pratthanadee Foundation is trying to overcome. The foundation, working with adult women in Bangkok, recognized the low self-worth and low self-esteem that many of the women in the city brought with them from their rural homes. So the foundation opened a regional office in Isaan.

A waitress at a street bar in Bangkok

A waitress at a street bar in Bangkok (Photo by Blemished Paradise on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

In addition to Beer, adults at the Better Me workshops include Ploy, the coordinator of the program and Nang, a 36-year old former student from an earlier workshop by the foundation in Bangkok. Before her training at the foundation, Nang was employed as a “bar girl,” a waitress in one of the city’s red light districts.

She told the reporter that she had known lots of women from her district who went to work at bars in the capital. “The feeling was that if you have children and your family is very poor, you have to do it.” She added that the hope among those women is to find a foreign boyfriend who would then provide support. Nang admitted that the work was financially profitable, but she also felt that it was dangerous.

A woman working at a computer in the Na Wa Public Hospital, Nakhon Phanom province of Isaan

A woman working at a computer in the Na Wa Public Hospital, Nakhon Phanom province of Isaan (Photo by Mattes in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

When the founder of the NGO asked her what she would see as her dream job, she replied that she wanted to work in an office situation. She wanted to work with a computer, wear a beautiful dress and never be scared. He helped her work toward her goal. The staff at the Better Me workshops don’t sugarcoat the realities, however. The girls live in harsh conditions and from a young age they are pressured to help support their families.

Fai, the student, said that the workshops had suggested new avenues for her to consider. She felt that they had taught her to think of her own future more as a journey than as a quick fix. Fai said she would like to focus on the possibility of computer science as a career. She recognizes it is a long shot—she is not sure how she could afford the costs of a training program—but a good career should give her funds so she could help her family and have a better life herself.

Thai women working in a typical factory

Thai women working in a typical factory (Photo by Josh Jackson in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

But Nang is realistic. She would like the girls to stay in school in order to get good jobs. But some will choose to work in factories. So the foundation tells them about the labor laws of Thailand and their rights as workers. In an ever optimistic spirit, she tells them, “If you like this work, then do it. But maybe, in the future, you can go to the next level. Why not see how far you can go?”

Beer emphasized to the reporter that the unique aspect of the foundation’s work is their emphasis on visualization and goal-setting. They believe it is essential to empower the girls to think of their futures in new ways. The staff emphasizes to them that they must devise their own dreams, then work out what they have to do to get there.

A seamstress repairs a pair of jeans at her streetside sewing stand in Bangkok

A seamstress repairs a pair of jeans at her streetside sewing stand in Bangkok (Photo by Mark Fischer in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

In essence, if girls really want to work on the streets, fine. That’s their choice. But the staff asks them to keep the pictures they drew with their images of hopes for their futures. They ask the girls to take the pictures out a year later, on the same date, and study them. They should ask themselves if they are getting any closer to their goals—are they on track to attain them? The staff emphasizes that they will still be there to help out, if needed.

The website of the Pratthanadee Foundation gives more information about the group and its work.

 




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