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Does the Vulnerable sun bear Helarctos malayanus damage crops and threaten people in oil palm plantations?

  • Roshan Guharajan (a1), Nicola K. Abram (a2), Mohd Azzumar Magguna (a3), Benoît Goossens (a3), Siew Te Wong (a4), Senthilvel K. S. S. Nathan (a5) and David L. Garshelis (a1)...


Largely as a result of the expansion of oil palm Elaeis guineensis, forest fragmentation has occurred on a large scale in Borneo. There is much concern about how forest-dependent species, such as the Vulnerable sun bear Helarctos malayanus, can persist in this landscape. The absence of sufficient natural food in forest fragments could drive sun bears into oil palm plantations, where they risk coming into conflict with people. We interviewed oil palm plantation workers and farmers in the Lower Kinabatangan region of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, to ascertain if sun bears were utilizing plantations, if they were causing damage to the crop, and how the bears were perceived by people. To obtain a comparative baseline we extended these questions to include other species as well. We found that bears were rarely encountered in plantations and were not considered to be destructive to the oil palm crop, although they were generally feared. Other species, such as macaques Macaca spp., bearded pigs Sus barbatus, and elephants Elephas maximus, had more destructive feeding habits. Sun bears could use this readily available food resource without being targeted for retribution, although incidental human-related mortality remains a risk. Although bears could gain some nutritional benefit from oil palm, plantations do not provide the diversity of food and cover available in a natural forest.


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Current address: Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Alfred-Kowalke-Str. 17, 10315 Berlin, Germany

Also at: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Grand Rapids, Minnesota, USA

Also at: School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK; Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK; and Sabah Wildlife Department, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Supplementary material for this article can be found at



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Supplementary materials

Guharajan et al. supplementary material
Guharajan et al. supplementary material 1

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