Nine sun bear cubs have been rescued in the first 10 months of this year, according to the Phnom Penh office of NGO Wildlife Alliance.
The cubs, some as young as two weeks, were saved by government rangers and the NGO’s Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT), with four of the bears having been picked up in the last three months, the group announced on Tuesday via its Facebook page.
A 6-month-old found on October 20 in the Cardamom Mountains, 70 kilometres north of Koh Kong town, was the latest success story. After receiving a tip, rangers searched the home of a man, and after finding nothing, checked in a nearby hut. There, in a blue container no bigger than a laundry basket, was the tiny cub.
“Unfortunately, the owner of the hut was nowhere to be found, and neighbours informed the rangers that he only visited the property occasionally,” Wildlife Alliance wrote on its website. “The rangers will continue to investigate the matter in order to identify and arrest the hunter.”
According to a study by NGO Traffic released in August, 190 seizures of bears – dead or alive – were made in Cambodia from 2000 to 2011, out of nearly 700 in all of Asia. The bears are targeted for their bile, which adherents of traditional Chinese medicine believe packs health benefits.
Chuon Vuthy, Cambodia-based program manager for Free The Bears, said the rescued cubs were sent to the Phnom Tamao Zoo & Wildlife Rescue Center in Takeo province for the treatment.
From 1994 to October 2014, the centre has received 183 bears. Many were being raised as pets or oddball tourist attractions in homes, guesthouses, restaurants and hotels.
“The big or older bears are difficult to raise, transport and sell, so the hunters keep the young bears for selling, and most of the big bears are killed for meat, paws, and [the bile in their gall] bladder, which is used as the traditional remedy,” Vuthy said.
Vuthy added that a bear is sold locally for between $300 and $500 and that 10 per cent of bears found are dead at the scene due to lack of nutrition and poor living conditions.
According to Free The Bears, Cambodia is home to 14 globally endangered species, including the Asiatic black bear, Malaysian sun bear, the Asian elephant and the pileated gibbon.