Associate Professor Dr Shyamala Ratnayeke from Sunway University’s Department of Biological Sciences who is working on the ecology and population genetics of Malayan sun bears said, “Asian bears are among the most threatened, yet the least studied bears in the world.” The sun bear is the smallest of the world’s bear species, occupying the warm and humid rain forests of Southeast Asia.
All Asian bears are threatened as their body parts are commercially valuable in traditional Asian medicine. Sun bear is listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. For this research on landscape characteristics and population genetic structure of sun bears in Malaysia, Dr Shyamala collaborates with Dr Jactty Chew, a microbiologist also from the Department of Biological Sciences, Sunway University. They obtained funding from Sunway University, Lancaster University, and the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA).
“We know that natural forest cover is important habitat for sun bears,” said Dr Shyamala, “but we don’t know the extent to which sun bears use agricultural habitats, or whether roads, settlements and terrain limits dispersal among populations. Our research involves identifying genetic markers for sun bears and studying sun bear habitat relationships in natural and human-altered habitats.”
Currently, Dr Shyamala and her colleagues are working with the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sabah, where two Sunway University undergraduate final year project students are developing designs for hair traps, a non-invasive method for obtaining genetic samples from sun bears.
Dr Shyamala’s research interests focused mainly on the ecology and conservation of carnivores, but in recent years, she started to work on invasive species. Dr Shyamala worked on raccoons for her PhD, but later returned to Sri Lanka to work on sloth bears. Her doctoral advisor, Professor Emeritus Michael Pelton at the University of Tennessee, was a renowned black bear researcher. Prior to joining Sunway University, Dr Shyamala served as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Dodoma in Tanzania.
Sunway University currently has nine research centres and one research group pursuing research across various fields of study. The University which recently gained a spot in the QS World University Rankings list, collaborates with renowned institutions such as University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, on research and to organise international symposiums, forums and talks.