A Change of Guard

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Saturday, 28 June 2008

Perth Zoo unveils Australia's first sun bear cub

FIRST-BORN: Maly, Australia's first sun bear cub, gets a ride from mum at Perth Zoo. Picture: Theo Fakos

Carmelle Sander

June 28, 2008 11:00am

PERTH Zoo today proudly unveiled an Australian first - the first sun bear born in this country.

Her parents were rescued from poachers in Cambodia and now Maly -- pronounced 'Mahlee' -- is the lastest addition to the Perth Zoo sun bear menagerie.

The inquisitive 13-week-old cub this week wowed zoo keepers when she started to climb on her own.

Maly, which translates as "blossom'' in Cambodia -- where her parents are from -- weighed just 406grams when she was born.

She remained tucked away in a birthing den with mum Bopha for the first three months of her life.

Perth Zoo is only catching glimpses of Maly as she emerges from her den, but zookeeper Emma Gatehouse said she was strong and healthy.

``Mum is quite protective of her cub but still gives her some distance to explore the grounds on her own,'' she said.

``Dad Jamran is in the enclosure next door and keeps a watchful eye.''

Maly is particularly special because of the remarkable survival of her parents who were rescued from poachers.

Jamran and Bopha were stolen from the wild when they were cubs and were in poor condition when they arrived at the Free The Bears Fund Sanctuary in Cambodia.

The bears were nursed back to health before moving to Perth last January, where Project Sun Bear raised money to build their new home.

Environment Minister David Templeman said the birth of Maly was a major achievement for Perth Zoo which is part of a regional breeding program for the threatened Sun Bear -- the world's smallest bear.

Perth Zoo continues to monitor mother and cub via a video surveillance system and carries out weekly physical checks to ensure all is going well.

Mr Templeman said: “Perth Zoo staff have been monitoring mother and cub via a video surveillance system and conducting weekly physical checks to ensure all is going well,” Mr Templeman said.

“It is still early days and we are only seeing short glimpses of the cub at the moment as she starts to venture out of the den but she is looking strong and healthy and now weighs 6kg.''

Mr Templeman said the birth of Maly, which was part of a regional breeding program for the threatened Sun bear, the world’s smallest bear species, was a major achievement for Perth Zoo.

“This breeding success is the culmination of years of planning and would not have been possible without the support of Free The Bears Fund and the Cambodian Government and the generosity of the Western Australian community and businesses,” he said.

Free the Bears Fund founder Mary Hutton said the birth of the female cub at Perth Zoo was a significant contribution to the Australasian population of Sun Bears, a globally threatened species, and demonstrated the importance of inter-regional co-operation in endangered species conservation.

“Besides creating an increased awareness of the threats facing Sun Bears in the wild in Cambodia, the Sun Bears at Perth Zoo are directly aiding their wild cousins through visitor support for in-situ conservation efforts by Free the Bears Fund and our partners in Cambodia,” Ms Hutton said.

Sun Bear background

• Maly was born at 9am on Wednesday, March 26. This followed a gestation period of 97 days.

• Bear cubs are quite inactive and undeveloped at birth, constantly suckling for the first three months. Maly should start eating solids over the next month.

• Cubs stay with their mother until they are independent at around two years of age.

• The Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) is the smallest bear species and is found throughout South-East Asia. It is also known as the Honey Bear, Malay Bear or Dog Bear.

• The Sun Bear is targeted by the restaurant trade in parts of Asia as a delicacy with reputed medicinal benefit. In Cambodia, a bowl of bear paw soup can fetch up to $1,290.

• The toll on species numbers from this illegal culinary trade and from the destruction of its rainforest habitat is very high. Traditional Asian medicine prescribes bear fat, gall, meat, paws, spinal cord, blood and bones for all kinds of complaints. Dried gall can sell for up to 18 times the price of gold.

• Sun Bears have short, sleek coats and take their name from the light yellow rising sun-shaped patch on their chest.

• They are omnivores, eating a varied diet of fruit, vegetables and meat. One of their favourite foods is honey, straight from the hive, bees and all. They have a long tongue that helps them collect food, especially honey.

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