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Frontier Cambodia confirm the first records of sun bears in Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary 

Congratulations to the Frontier Cambodia team who have confirmed the first records of sun bears in Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary. Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary is located in three provinces of the Cambodian kingdom, and covers approximately one million acres - the largest protected area in Cambodia!

Image courtesy of Antiuniverse

The Malayan sun bear, also known as the "honey bear" due to its voracious appetite for honeycombs and honey, are found in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia. Their distribution ranges from north-eastern India, across to the southern Yunnan Province of China. Populations of the sun bear in recent decades have become very patchy, due to human driven factors such as deforestation that destroy their natural habitat. In turn the sun bear population has suffered a decline of more than 30% over the past three bear generations. These shocking statistics emphasize how important Frontiers work is out in the Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Cambodia, and how rewarding it has been to sight them in their natural habitat.

Frontier has been working within the western portion of the sanctuary, within the Oddar Meanchey Province, since January 2011. The Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary was originally set up in 1964 to protect and conserve a forest-dwelling wild ox kouprey. The wild ox was last sighted in 1983; and later reported as critically endangered or extinct by the IUCN in 2008. Today the sanctuary encompasses a large range of habitats, including a rich lowland evergreen dipterocarp forest as well as the largest swamp in the country. Kulen-Promtep is also home to a variety of large mammals. Frontier Cambodia carried out numerous camera trapping surveys between January and July 2011 to identify the species present; these experiments produced promising results including animals such as the gaur, the Asian golden cat, the leopard cat, the red muntjac and the Eurasian wild pig.

Image courtesy of Mike Baird

In contrast to the other mammals in the Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, the sun bears are known for their good hiding skills, so finding the sun bears during broad daylight proved extremely difficult. To overcome this, the Frontier team set up Bushnell infrared camera traps to capture the sun bears during the night. Using this method meant the team could sit back, put their feet up and relax while the sun bears came to them. Bushnell infrared camera traps were placed out in dry river beds, small streams, and various human and animal paths in hope that they could catch a glimpse of a magnificent sun bear. There patient and time consuming work paid off, giving them very rewarding results. They obtained 4 images of sun bears: 2 between January and March, and a further 2 between April and June.

More evidence was gathered in the form of claw marks, following close examination of the tree bark in a 2 hectare transect in the evergreen forest. The large claw marks ranged between 60-80mm indicating that they were made by sun bears. Combining the great portfolio of evidence, Frontier Cambodia was proud to confirm the presence of sun bears in the Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary. The IUCN Bear Specialist Group has stressed the importance of information on sun bears, as this data is most lacking compared to other bear species.  We know the Cambodia project will continue to contribute great work to the biodiversity and conservation in the Kulen-Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary.

By Jennifer Pearson-Farr