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Rare sun bear caught on camera in Myanmar

Grazie alle fototrappole dell’Istituto Oikos è stata confermata la presenza dell’orso malese nelle foreste del Myanmar.

The forests of Southeast Asia are home to the smallest species of bear, the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), named after the distinctive U-shaped yellowish spot on their chest. Despite the lack of an accurate estimate of how many individuals survive in the wild, sun bears are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN as they’re threatened by human-related activities. The sun bear has been declared extinct in Singapore and, according to recent researches, also in Bangladesh and China. Fortunately, this long-tongued plantigrade animal still roams wild in Myanmar’s forests, as confirmed by camera traps of the Oikos Institute.

Sun bear Myanmar
A sun bear’s tongue is long and can reach up to 25 centimetres. It is used to take honey out of trees © Istituto Oikos Onlus

The video features a sun bear rubbing against a tree, a gesture usually made to mark their territory and signalling their presence to other bears. The extraordinary images have been grabbed in the forests of Rakhine, north-west Myanmar, under the Conservation of Sun Bear in Myanmar project, promoted by the NGO Oikos Institue and sponsored by Fondazione Segré.

Discovering a new world

This is the first systematic study to be conducted in the forests of Rakhine – an area still little known to scientists. 120 camera traps have been installed in the area, as they’re crucial to discover wildlife populating the area. “Camera traps are widely used to monitor wild animals,” explaines Filippo Zibordi, zoologist of the Oikos Institute and head of activities. “They allow spotting bears, figuring out their gender and making estimates on their population and the areas they populate”.

The sun bear is threatened

The survival of sun bears is threatened by habitat loss, as the forests they live in are cleared by the logging industry and to make space to oil palm plantations. Besides deforestation, the illegal wildlife trade is contributing to decimating the species, which numbers dropped by 30 per cent over the past 30 years. Sun bears are poached for their meat and for body parts used in the Chinese traditional medicine, such as gallbladder.

deforestation Myanmar
The habitat of the sun bear is fragmented and reduced for agricultural lands © China Photos/Getty Images)

A glimmer of hope for the sun bear

The aim of the Conservation of Sun Bear in Myanmar project, set to end in 2020, is protecting the habitat of sun bears through initiatives of a sustainable and communitarian management of forests, and reducing human-animal conflicts through raising awareness activities for local communities.

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