What It Takes To Save The Bears

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Sun bear

Zoo InternQuest is a career exploration program for high school students. For more information see the Zoo InternQuest blogs. For more photos see the Zoo InternQuest Photo Journal.

“We are the science of saving species” is the motto of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and for Suzanne Hall, who works there. Suzanne Hall, a senior research technician in the Applied Animal Ecology Division, spends her time saving bears by studying their behavior. She focuses on sun bears and how they interact within their environment. She observes the sun bear species and applies the data of what she has learned to help preserve the species.

Ms. Hall travels around the world to study bears, specifically behavior, and then applies this research to bears here at the Zoo. She makes sure that the bears are comfortable and happy in their Zoo environment. By studying bears, she can see what they like to do and then try to mimic that activity for them here. One way she does this is through animal enrichment, which is a way to keep animals mentally and physically engaged. Ms. Hall also observes what kind of environment the bears live in and tries to replicate that habitat into the exhibit. Happy bears ensure that zoos can develop self-sustaining populations. This is important because if an endangered animal goes extinct in the wild, at least there will be some in managed-care facilities that can eventually help to bring up the population and maybe even be reintroduced into the wild.

Sun bears live all around Southeast Asia, and by being such a large area, it is hard to tell how many bears are actually left. We do know that the sun bear species have become threatened because of the depletion of their habitat. Since the human population continues to grow, there is an increased need for paper products and palm oil, which means trees are not always being cut down sensibly. According to Ms. Hall, each year 30 percent of the sun bears’ habitat diminishes. Without the trees, there will be no habitat for animals to live in, less food for them to eat, and eventually they will be forced to migrate to other places, possibly villages. Unfortunately, those other places might not be able to sustain the sun bear population.

Ms. Hall and her colleagues have worked diligently with the sun bears. Thankfully, not every person needs to become a research technician, like Ms. Hall, in order to help in the conservation of sun bears. Ms. Hall says that “the most important things for conservation are the three R’s; reduce, re-use, recycle. Although these things are commonly said, it is the easiest way to help the planet.” She goes on to say that if someone is specifically interested in preserving the sun bears, they should make sure that they do not purchase anything with unsustainably harvested palm oil in it. Palm oil is found in the fruit of palm trees that are predominently found in Asia and is the major cause of  deforestation. Ms. Hall recommends that if you want to help save a species, you can help educate others about how they are important in the circle of life. If people don’t know about a species and how they affect us, they won’t care if they go extinct. No matter how great or how small, from educating people about endangered species to buying a hybrid car, all will help protect the Earth and preserve it for future generations.

Teghan, Conservation Team (Week 2)