Edinburgh Zoo welcomes Malayan sun bears


By Martin Graham

EDINBURGH Zoo has welcomed its two newest residents, a pair of Malayan sun bears called Rotana and Somnang.

The bears were brought over from Cambodia, where they faced threats from poachers and hunters.

They were rescued in 2004, when they were just cubs, from a private owner who kept them in a tiny cage and brought to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, near Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

It is thought that the bears were captured by a poacher who would have killed their mother to grab the highly prized cubs.

Romain Pizzi is a veterinary surgeon with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland based at the Zoo and has got to know the bears quite well recently.

He said: “I went to visit them in Cambodia when we were over there training some vets and looking after some bears that were ill.”

Mr Pizzi explained more about the threats the bears face in their own environment: “People keep these creatures in cages as status symbols, as a way of demonstrating their wealth.

“The threats are getting worse in Cambodia and Vietnam.

“When there was war and the Khmer Rouge, people were scared to go into the forest and hunt bears.

“As it has become more peaceful, more people are engaged in illegal hunting.

“The mothers are killed and the cubs are taken as pets.

Mr Pizzi described the level of the threat to the species: “Sun bears are classified as being vulnerable, they are under increasing threat from man through illegal hunting.

“That means they can become endangered quite soon if this hunting continues.

The sun bear is the smallest species of bear, measuring around 1.2m tall when standing.

They have a dark brown coat and take their name from a distinctive yellow crescent patch on the chest which looks like a rising sun.

The bears have long claws which they use to climb trees, and a long thin tongue to lick honey from bee hives.

Sharon Hatton is the senior carnivores keeper at the Zoo.

She explained how the zoo had made special preparations for the new guests: “These guys are very special because they are rescue bears.

“They have this fabulous climbing frame, lots of natural trees and tropical plants.

“They are enjoying their first day out at the zoo.

“The enclosure is three times the size of the original polar bear enclosure we had.

“They have a honey drip and we have buried pipes in the ground to hide the food so they have to use their claws to dig it up.

“And we have a special wobble tree which they have to shake to make the fruit fall off.”