Elizabeth Oneita Davis, University of Bristol
David A. O’Connor, Sun Bear and Asiatic Black Bear Expert Teams, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Jenny Anne Glikman, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Diogo Veríssimo, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Brian Crudge, Sun Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Thona Lim, Free the Bears
Matt Hunt, Co-chair Asiatic Black Bear Expert Team, Captive Bears Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group

The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is one of the more poorly understood bear species in the world, and is facing significant threats from extensive habitat loss and poaching. Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) face similar threats in Southeast Asia. Despite the wide recognition that poaching remains a prominent issue for both of these species, there is nevertheless much misunderstanding about the drivers of the demand for bear parts.
Free the Bears (FTB), San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), and local governments partnered to better understand the demands for bear parts in Cambodia and Lao PDR employing a mixed-methods approach of social science and anthropological techniques. We sought to understand which ethnic groups have the greatest demand and specifically what this demand is for, so that we could better address how to reduce it.
Our first study of use of bear parts was performed in Lao PDR in 2014, using social science surveys (Davis et al. 2016). We felt that a significant limitation of that work was the sole reliance on direct questions to inquire about use of bear parts. Direct questions can yield deceitful answers when the person is asked about illegal and/or socially undesirable behaviours (St. John et al. 2010). As bear part use is illegal in both Lao PDR and Cambodia, we presumed that asking directly about use of these products would under-estimate the actual prevalence of use. Therefore, we are now employing methodological techniques that rely on a series of questions and statistical techniques to derive probabilities of occurrence of sensitive activities. We used the randomised response technique (RRT), nominative technique (NT), and unmatched count technique (UCT) in Cambodia to better measure the true prevalence of use of bear parts. UCT was recently used to derive the prevalence of illegal bird hunting in Cambodia (Ibbett et al. 2017). So far, these techniques have shown that users of bear parts in Cambodia may comprise as much as a fifth of the country’s population –– much higher than the 8% that admitted this through direct questioning.

The Stung Treng survey team (left to right): Mony, Chenda, Munny, Virak, Marady, and Vichet. Photo credit: T. Lim

The Stung Treng survey team (left to right): Mony, Chenda, Munny, Virak, Marady, and Vichet.
Photo credit: T. Lim

Considering the extensive demand for bear parts in Cambodia, FTB-SDZG are now focusing efforts on implementation of a behavioural change/demand reduction campaign in northeast Cambodia (Stung Treng) during 2018, through a partnership with Oxford University. To allow for sufficiently rigorous impact evaluation, we will be tailoring the campaign specifically to the use of bear bile or gallbladders for medical purposes. Although we have uncovered numerous uses for bear parts within Cambodia, we have confirmed that the primary reason for use appears to be medicinal.

A member of the survey team (wearing shirt) conducts an interview about use of bear parts in Stung Treng, Cambodia. Photo credit: T. Lim

A member of the survey team (wearing shirt) conducts an interview about use of bear parts in Stung Treng, Cambodia.
Photo credit: T. Lim

An intriguing finding of our research is that use of bear parts for medicine is not regarded as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), nor is it regarded as Traditional Khmer Medicine (TKM). Rather, such use appears to exist in a separate conceptual sphere that is tied to Western (also sometimes termed “scientific”) medicine. Cambodians who suffer bruising or internal bleeding (usually from a motor-related accident, though uterine issues have also been cited), they typically will first take Western medicine, and if their bruising/bleeding ailments are not alleviated, they may turn to bear bile or gallbladder. Our campaign has been designed to discourage individuals from turning to bear bile/gallbladder as a medical option by encouraging those individuals to consult trained medical professionals of both Western and traditional Khmer medicine. The campaign will also target the medical professionals of both TKM and Western medicine by discouraging prescription of bear parts.

Should the campaign in Stung Treng be effective, we hope to expand to other geographical areas of Cambodia, in particular towns and villages that are located near protected areas, where there are bears that could be poached. If the goals of the campaign are realized, the reduction in users of bear parts throughout Cambodia should lessen the impetus to poach.

Literature Cited

Davis, E.O., D. O’Connor, B. Crudge, A. Carignan, J.A. Glikman, C. Browne-Nuñez, and M. Hunt. 2016. Understanding public perceptions and motivations around bear part use: A study in northern Laos of attitudes of Chinese tourists and Lao PDR nationals. Biological Conservation 203:282-289.

Ibbett, H., C. Lay, P. Phlai, D. Song, C. Hong, S.P. Mahood, and E.J. Milner-Gulland. 2017. Conserving a globally threatened species in a semi-natural, agrarian landscape. Oryx doi:10.1017/S0030605316001708

St. John, F.A., G. Edwards-Jones, J.M. Gibbons, and J.P. Jones. 2010. Testing novel methods for assessing rule breaking in conservation. Biological Conservation 143:1025-1030.

Elizabeth Oneita Davis

University of Bristol
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology
Bristol, BS8 1UU, UK
Email: elizabeth.davis@bristol.ac.uk

David A. O’Connor

Member: Sun Bear and Asiatic Black Bear Expert Teams, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Escondido, CA 92027, USA
Email: DOConnor@sandiegozoo.org

Jenny Anne Glikman

San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Escondido, CA 92027, USA

Diogo Veríssimo

San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Escondido, CA 92027, USA

Brian Crudge

Member: Sun Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Free the Bears
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Thona Lim

Free the Bears
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Matt Hunt

Co-chair Asiatic Black Bear Expert Team
Member: Captive Bears Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Free the Bears
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

originally published in International Bear News 2018 Spring Vol. 27 No. 1 on pages 9-10