Known as: Sun Bear, Honey bear, Malayan sun bear
Estimated numbers in the wild: Possibly fewer than 1,000
The sun bear is the smallest bear species in the world; an adult is approximately 120 to 150 centimetres long (about the same size as an Old English sheepdog), and weighs 25 kilograms and 65 kilograms. The boar is up to 20% larger than the sow. It is named for the distinctive golden-yellow crescent patch on its chest, which is thought in Asia to look like the rising sun. Other than lighter fur on the face, the sun bear is covered with black hair. Relative to its size, the front paws and claws of the sun bear are quite large, which is an adaptation that allows the bear to climb easily. Sun bears do not hibernate. These are timid bears which try to avoid contact with human beings.
Habitat and hunting: While most bears are basically terrestrial, the sun bear spends quite a bit of time in trees, and often construct nests high off the ground for sleeping purposes. Besides sleeping, sun bears hunt for insects and bees’ nests in the trees, using their strong teeth and curved claws to rip open hives, termite nests, or even wood to get at their prey. The long tongue of the sun bear, which can be up to 25 centimetres long, makes it easy to lap insects out of their hiding places. In addition to insects, sun bears will also eat fruit, lizards, turtles, and eggs. As one of the alternative names suggests, these bears are exceedingly fond of honey. Sun bears are generally nocturnal and use their excellent sense of smell to help them locate food.
Because of the many sightings of sun bears in pairs, it is thought that at least some of these bears may form monogamous relationships. They can breed at any time of the year and the cubs are born in a nest on the ground. The naked, blind cub is cared for and protected by its mother (and perhaps the father as well), and sun bear mothers often carry their cubs in their arms while walking upright – bears have plantigrade feet as do humans. The cubs stay with their mothers for about 24 months.
Location: Sun bears are found in South-east Asia, from the uppermost, north-east tip of India through Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and part of southern China.
Threats: Habitat destruction for agriculture or logging has fragmented the forests that sun bears require. These bears are also killed for meat or for making useless medicines for the Asian market. Very often, farmers consider that they are pests and will also kill them. Some of these animals are kept in cages in Asia to be ‘milked’ for the bile from their gall bladders.
Conservation efforts: Captive breeding programs in North America and Europe have been implemented. The sun bear also has protection under CITES, and allegedly has protection throughout most of its natural range, although there is little enforcement provided. Various conservation groups in Asia are also trying to help provide protection for the sun bear.
Bear Trust International
Bear Trust International is an American organisation which works to protect different bear species around the world and their habitats through education, research, management and habitat conservation.
Hauser Bears is a UK based charity with a mission to change peoples attitudes towards bears. Their main work revolves around research and education to ensure a future for all bear species.