Although you may never have heard of them before now, Helarctos malayamus better known as Sun bears (yes, believe it or not moon bears exist too), are the smallest species of bear in the world. These bears can be found in tropical forest habitats in Southeast Asia, but are sadly on the IUCN vulnerable species list.
Yet another animal attempting to survive in our growing anthropogenic world, the Sun Bear has seen a population loss of over 30% in the last few decades. This decrease is almost entirely in part to deforestation, and researchers at the university of South Carolina have good reason to believe these number aren’t slowing down anytime soon. Using data captured from 1,463 non-baited camera traps spanning over 31 field sites all within Sun bear territory, the team found that there’s a direct correlation between tree cover and sun bear presence. The bears were only seen in areas with over 20% cover (over a span of 6km^2 from the camera) and were 146% more likely to be found in areas with 80%+ tree cover then that of only 20%+.
A very interesting aspect of their study was the camera traps, which work by turning on and recording every time they sense movement in the area in front of them, weren’t specifically set up to find Sun bears. They were setup for a number of other studies being done on other species. However, the camera data was borrowed and used to collect population information on the Sun Bears which in regards to the other studies, was a byproduct. This reuse of data led to the findings of strong evidence in support of diminishing Sun Bear numbers, and has the potential to do it time and time again with completely different species.
The future implications on this are endless. If studies using camera traps to interpret information on one specific species, were to share they’re data across the world to other researchers attempting to learn something about completely different species found in that area. Then potentially huge knowledge gaps on all types of animals could be filled, and this doesn’t even include the economic proficiency that would come of it.
The overall takeaway is that if so much can be learned about our small bear friends in Southeast Asia using recycled camera footage (and knowledge from experts), who knows what else could be learned about other animals in that footage or other camera trap studies.
Mousseau T., 2017. Projecting range-wide sun bear population trends using tree cover and camera-trap bycatch data. PLoS One NO 12(9): 56-68.