Test May Show New Species, Subspecies
The Ministry of Agriculture’s Wildlife Protection Office has sent DNA samples from two rare bears to be tested in the US, said Sun Hean, deputy director of the Wildlife Protection Office.
“We’re not sure if they’re a new species or [a new] subspecies,” Sun Hean said.
Gary J Galbreath, a biology professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, and Sy Montgomery, a scientific writer also at the university, visited Cambodia last month and took fur samples from the bears back to the US, according to Chhun Sareth, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture.
The two also took a field trip with Cambodian wildlife officials to a densely forested and mountainous region in Koh Kong province, to determine if there were other golden-colored bears in the area, Sun Hean said.
Villagers and hunters interviewed by the team said they had never seen such bears, Sun Hean said.
Chhun Sareth said that he is hopeful the DNA tests will show a new species. “We believe that they are a new species of bear [in Asia],” he said.
Sun Hean, who said he will return to the US to study later this month, added that he does not know when results from the tests will be ready.
One of the bears is in a private zoo in Prey Veng province, while the other is at Phnom Tamao Zoo outside Phnom Penh.
The bear at Phnom Tamao Zoo, which has a full golden-colored coat, was donated by local businessman Mong Reththy, who said he purchased the animal for $600 from villagers in Sihanoukville in 1996.
Mong Reththy decided to turn the bear—for which he was offered $8,000 by an Australian national—over to the zoo because he believes the government is making an impressive effort to protect wildlife in Cambodia, he said.
(Additional reporting by Kay Kimsong)