Patchy information reached Mr. Khem Vong, project manager of the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT), spurring immediate action: A baby Malayan sun bear had been captured and was for sale up in Northern Cambodia and in the hands of a soldier from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
Time was of the essence knowing that the baby bear would soon be sold, probably to a bear farm in Vietnam. Vong was desperate to find information to act on. Early in the morning of October 5, 2011, the Cambodian government and Wildlife Alliance’s WRRT confirmed the presence of the bear in the remote region around Preah Vihear Temple near the border of Thailand. Built atop the Dangrek Mountains in the 11th and 12th centuries, this temple and its surroundings have been the subject of an ongoing dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. Militaries on both sides have been building up and there have been several incidences of shooting. The bear was just 12 km from the temple in the militarized zone along the border, prohibiting the team from conducting a raid to rescue the bear.
WRRT members pose with healthy bear before transport to Phnom Tamao Undeterred, and armed with precise information about the location of the baby sun bear, the team, with the help of local Forestry Administration officials, met with the regional military commander. The meeting was tense, but the military commander demonstrated the increased respect in Cambodia for the rule of law and collaboration among the different governmental agencies, as well as as improved appreciation for the need to uphold wildlife and forest protections. The military commander joined forces with the WRRT and accompanied the team to where the bear was being held, and ordered the soldier to surrender the bear to the team peacefully.
The 10kg sun bear is now on his way to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, the site of Wildlife Alliance’s Care for Rescued Wildlife program.
Wildlife Alliance: Wildlife Alliance’s mission is to protect and preserve forests and wildlife for future generations. We work directly with communities and governments to improve forest management and institute good governance to comprehensively address the devastation of ecosystems and combat the illegal wildlife trade. Our programs in Southeast Asia and the Russian Far East fight forest crime in high biodiversity areas, and actively promote diversified agriculture, community-based ecotourism, and reforestation. We create economic incentives and build political will within communities to preserve the environment.
Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team: To respond to Asia’s wildlife trafficking crisis, Wildlife Alliance established Southeast Asia’s first rapid-response law enforcement unit with the help of the Cambodian government in 2001. Manned by eight Military Police officers and four Forestry Administration officers, the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team rescues animals from poachers and dealers, confiscates illegal products made from wildlife, and prosecutes criminals for violating wildlife protection laws. The WRRT is also Cambodia’s officially recognized wildlife crime task force under the regional ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network.
Malayan sun bears: The Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is recognized as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to habitat loss, poaching, and the illegal wildlife trade. Protected under Cambodian law and under the Convention on the Illegal Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as an Appendix I species since 1979, the sun bear is regarded as having lost more than 30% of its world population in the past three decades. The two major threats to sun bears are habitat loss and commercial hunting.