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Sun bears seized in Ratanakkiri

Two young animals rescued from wildlife trader earlier this week are now being cared for at Phnom Tamao wildlife centre

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A member of the WRRT walks the two rescued bear cubs to their new enclosure at Phnom Tamao Thursday.

TWO sun bears are settling into their new enclosure at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre after arriving Thursday from Ratanakkiri province following their rescue from a wildlife trader by the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT).

Seven members of WRRT, a government task force managed by the Forestry Administration with support from conservation NGO Wildlife Alliance, stormed the home of 36-year-old Eng Syda after an investigation carried out by the team confirmed the location of the bears.

After praising the WRRT team on a successful rescue operation, Nick Marx of Wildlife Alliance - who examined the cubs and said they appeared to be in good health - said the feisty male and placid female are probably siblings.

"Chances are the mother was killed," Marx said. "A mother bear is going to fight to protect her babies, so in most cases trappers will kill the mother to get to the cubs."

Koy Visedh, WRRT project manager, said the bears were discovered hidden in net sacks in the toilet of the offenders' home.

"This is the third time we've received information regarding these bears," Koy Visedh said, adding that the previous two attempts to locate the trader earlier this month had failed.

New information was received late last week and an operation was planned by the team, which drove to Ratanakkiri overnight Monday so as not to arouse suspicion, Koy Visedh said.

After a WRRT officer confirmed their location Tuesday afternoon, the other officers waiting nearby with local authorities moved in on the house, he added.

Dubious tale

Eng Syda told police he bought the three-month-old cubs in Stung Treng province seven months ago, a statement that cast doubt on his testimony, Koy Visedh said. He was held overnight for questioning before being charged with possession of a rare species.

Despite being recognised internationally as endangered, sun bears are considered rare under Cambodian law, meaning penalties for possessing them are less severe.

According to the law, if found guilty, Eng Syda could be fined up to three times the market value of the animals, which can be around US$3,000.

Ten to 15 bears on average are confiscated in Cambodia each year by WRRT, officials said. Five have been rescued by WRRT this year.

After their slow two-day journey in heavy rain on bumpy roads to their new home, the bears were eager to leave their cage to explore new surroundings. The cubs, which still require bottle-feeding, are being cared for by Free the Bears at Phnom Tamao.



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