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An evaluation of noninvasive sampling techniques for Malayan sun bears

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • T.L. Tee
  • W.L. Lai
  • T.K. Ju Wei
  • O.Z. Shern
  • F.T. Van Manen
  • S.P. Sharp
  • S.T. Wong
  • J. Chew
  • S. Ratnayeke
Article numbere16
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/12/2020
Number of pages12
Pages (from-to)1-12
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Traditional mark-recapture studies to estimate abundance and trends of Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) populations are impeded by logistics of live-trapping wild individuals. The development of noninvasive sampling techniques for monitoring sun bear populations is therefore crucial for targeted conservation action. Sun bears have short fur, and conventional hair-snagging devices are ineffective. Moreover, scats are rapidly decomposed by the warm, humid environment, as well as by invertebrates. In combination with camera-sampling, we tested 2 designs of hair traps (n = 45) in situ at Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah, Malaysia, during April-October 2017, to obtain hair samples from wild sun bears. We also deployed 4 types of hair traps in rainforest enclosures with captive sun bears to evaluate hair-capture success and the effects of weathering, lure, and adhesive on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification success. Wild adult male sun bears displayed back-rubbing behavior at hair traps and 6 individuals were identified based on unique chest marks. We collected 30 hair samples from wild sun bears, including 15 chest mark images of 6 individuals over 1,260 trap-nights. We detected adult males at hair traps more frequently than females and subadults. We obtained 39 hair samples in the captive trials. Extracted DNA from hair roots successfully amplified with mitochondrial (wild bears: 95%; captive bears: 97%) and microsatellite primers (wild bears: 100%; captive bears 87%). Adhesive and lure type did not affect PCR amplification, but weathering reduced amplification of microsatellite loci. This study is the first successful attempt to obtain genetic samples from wild sun bears using inexpensive, readily available materials such as duct tape, polybutyl glue, and locally sourced lures. The quality of genetic material from these genetic samples should be suitable for studies of population size and gene flow.