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Sun Bear: Why Is It Endangered?

Sun Bears are medium-sized bears that are usually found in Indonesia or other countries in mainland Southeast Asia. Sun Bears are one of the most endangered species worldwide, with only around 2000 remaining in the wild.

The Sun Bear has a distinctive appearance due to its long snout and narrow skull which is much smaller than other bears.

Sun bears have been hunted for their meat, fur, claws, and teeth throughout history because they are vulnerable to extinction.

Today, people still hunt Sun Bears for these same reasons as well as for sport. If you want to support Sun Bears then it is important not to buy any products made from them or consume any foods containing bear parts such as bile powder used to make some types of Chinese traditional medicine.

Sun Bear is also a common name for the Prairie Sun Bear, a different species of bear from Sun Bears that live in North America. Sun Bears are native to Sun Bear Island and other islands in the Indonesian archipelago.

They have been hunted there for centuries for their meat, fur, claws and teeth because they are vulnerable to extinction.

Sun Bears mainly live in tropical rainforests and can climb trees they are not bears that Sun Bears have a unique appearance because of Sun Bear’s long snout Sun Bear is called the Asian black bear.


Sun Bear in A Tree Trunk

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.

Anatomy and Appearance

The Sun Bear is not only the tiniest bear species on Earth, but it also has the most hair. The Sun Bear’s beautiful, glossy body is black to dark brown or grey in color. They have long, curved claws on their front paws that help them climb trees and break down hollow trees in search for termites. Its lengthy tongue is sticky to catch prey, and Sun Bears have large molars that can crush insects.

The Sun Bear’s head is quite small compared to the rest of the body, and Sun Bears have a long snout, which they use for sniffing out insects in termite nests.

It is used for extraction from nests and holes of grubs and honey. The Sun Bear is a light colored face with a short muzzle and with its long fur and ears is believed to have been an adaptation to spending so many years in the trees.

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Sun bears are found in Southeast Asia, from the uppermost, north-east tip of India through Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and part of southern China.

Sun Bear Habitat

Sun Bear Habitat

The Sun Bear is found in southeast Asia, including Indonesia. Sun Bears are usually found in dense forests which are close to water sources.

Sun Bears are found at altitudes of about 1000 meters or less. They are not found on plains or mountain slopes that are more than 1500 meters high.

They feed on fruit, mainly figs, pandanus nuts, and termite nests.

Diet and Nutrition

Their diet and nutrition is a critical consideration in Sun Bears. Sun Bears are omnivores which means they eat both plants and meat. Sun Bears mostly live on a diet of nuts, fruits, eggs, honey, insects, and roots. Sun Bears can also feast on carrion if it is available.

Sun Bears have been known to go as long as two weeks without eating if necessary because of the high fat content that they store in their bodies. Sun Bears consume some unusual food sources such as ants and termites for protein since they only eat every few days.

Sun Bears will typically hunt for food at night but will come out during the day to find a larger prey or a plant source big enough to feed more than one bear. Sun Bear’s favorite food is honey.

Sun Bear will expend about 100 calories for every hour they spend in search of honey while climbing trees. They are also known to eat fish, lizards, and rodents when they can capture them. Sun Bears living in captivity have been observed grabbing dogs or cats that may wander into their territory when they are not fed adequately.

They will not usually attack a human, but they may pose a threat of mauling if they feel threatened.

Sun bears’ habitat and diet are often limited by the resources available to them and are very dependent on seasonal changes. Sun bear diet and nutrition is one of the most important factors in conservation efforts because it affects their population, survival, and behavior.

They are threatened because of deforestation for development projects resulting in significant habitat loss. Sun Bears require many different types of plants to survive. Sun Bears eat and rely on wild fruits, berries, figs, and other leafy greens for their food source.

They often go out at night to hunt for ants because they travel in large groups in a single line. Sun Bears can be very finicky eaters and do not have a high tolerance for changes in their diet.

They have been known to starve themselves when they are not being fed the right food sources.

Sun Bears who are living in captivity often go hungry because zookeepers cannot always provide the types of food sun bears need to thrive. They are malnourished will often go into hibernation on their own and die of starvation during the winter months that sun bears typically sleep through.

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Sun Bear Mating Habits

Two Sun Bears Mating
jinterwas from Netherlands, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sun Bears do not engage in pair bonding, but males are thought to scent mark a female Sun Bear’s territory to attract her. They live in wooded areas and generally remain solitary, although they may congregate for mating purposes.

Unless they’re defending their cubs, they aren’t known to be territorial.

Ecology and behavior

Sun bears are not known to hibernate because they can be found in tropical areas with year-round food. Apart from females with their young, they are mostly solitary. Fallen hollow logs are the primary choice for resting sites but rest on standby trees with cavities and beneath fallen logs or tree roots. In captivity, they typically sleep during the day for up to 18 hours.

They can often be found feeding on termites by digging through the mounds with their long, sharp claws.

These bears have been known to engage in a practice called “anting,” where they roll around on anthills and allow ants to crawl all over their fur. Sun bears do this because of a chemical in the ants called formic acid which is an anti-inflammatory treatment for Sun bears with wounds.

The Malayan Sun Bear also engage in coprophagy, where they consume their own feces to access the nutrients that were left behind when they last ate.

Sun Bear vs the Honey Bear

Honey Bears are a subspecies of Sun Bear or Brown Bears in a group of Sun Bears. They have a lighter hue to their fur and are smaller than Sun Bears overall.

In contrast, Sun Bears have a dark brown fur coat with white chest hairs. Honey bears are comparable in size to Sun Bears, but they may be lighter in weight.

There is an ongoing debate over whether Sun Bears and Honey Bears are the same species. Sun Bears have been known to interbreed with Sun Bear subspecies, which indicates that they may be the same species

Sun Bear Facts

Sun Bear sitting on the rock

Here are some fun facts about the sun bear to know.

  • The Sun Bear is endangered and there are only about 2000 Sun Bears left in the wild.
  • Sun Bears are closely related to the Red Panda and have a distinctive appearance because of their long snout and narrow skull which is much smaller than other bears.
  • Sun Bears have a very black face and a cream to golden soft coat with a distinctive white or creamy yellow V-shaped chest mark.
  • Sun Bears are found in several countries in Southeast Asia including Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Eastern India, and the Philippines.
  • These bears have been threatened by hunting due to their teeth being considered valuable for use in traditional medicine. Sun bears are also threatened by deforestation and forest fires.
  • Sun Bears live in the tropical rainforest and sub-tropical forest where there is not much food available so Sun Bears are constantly looking for crab apples, beehives, fruit, berries, and termites.
  • Sun bears have adapted to find most of their food during the night time making them crepuscular animals.
  • Sun Bears however are more active at night than the Red Panda.
  • Sun bears also like to sleep in trees but Sun Bear cubs usually sleep with their mothers on the ground until they get bigger.
  • Sun Bears do not hibernate during winter months and instead may become less active, depending on habitat and food availability.
  • This type of bear depends mostly on vision to find their food and enemies which is why Sun Bears have large eyes to help them see at night.
  • They also have a very good sense of smell. Sun Bears are omnivores because they eat both plants and insects or small animals although they mainly eat fruit because that is their main source of vitamins.
  • They use the same sleeping position as Snow Leopards which is on the front with their face down and they also have a very strong grip.
  • Sun bears can open most jars which is why they sometimes find their way into human civilization in search of food.
  • Sun Bears are not sought after creatures by hunters relative to other bear species because most pelts have to be cleaned using chemicals that they never recover from and the meat is not considered tasty.
  • They are usually solitary animals and mothers raise their cubs for about two years before they go off to find a new home.
  • Young sun bear cubs have been spotted to live with their moms until they are three or even four years old.

See Related: Most Endangered Amphibians Around the World

Conservation Status

Sun Bear Playing

Sun Bear Predators and Threats

The Sun bear has developed unique adaptivity to escape predators. Adults in their environment don’t have much predatory activity. Sun Bear cubs are much more dangerous and are preyed on by snakes and large birds of prey.

The greatest threat to remaining populations is the drastic habitat loss of many of their natural habitats by deforestation.

Sun-breasted pigs may eat oils of palm particularly the young shoots they have gotten from farming plants. They’re also persecuted by farmers fearing the stability of their crops. The Sun Bears have developed loose skin particularly around their neck causing them to spin their heads in the event they are caught by another animal.

Habitat destruction for agriculture or logging has fragmented the forests that sun bears require. Hunting sun bears is another significant threat to this species. These bears are also killed for meat or for making medicines in 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.

See Related: What Attracts Bears?

Conservation efforts

Two Sun Bears playing behind the rock

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 logo

Bear Trust International is an American organization that works to protect different bear species around the world and their habitats through education, research, management, and habitat conservation.

Hauser Bears

Hauser Bears Logo

Hauser Bears is a United Kingdom based charity with a mission to change people’s attitudes towards bears. Their main work revolves around research and education to ensure a future for all bear species.

Final Thoughts

Sun Bear Climbing

The Sun Bear Cubs, also known as Malayan Sun Bears or Sun Bear cubs, are medium-sized bear that resides in Southeast Asia but still is one of the smallest bear species out there. Their long snout and tiny skull set them apart from other bears due to their small size.

The Sun Bear’s diet is largely fruit due to its high content of vitamins and the fact that vision is more important than any other sense in locating food or enemies at night when compared to Red Pandas, who are crepuscular creatures who are most active at night rather than during the day.


What is the Sun Bear?

Sun Bears are among the most endangered bears in the world because they live largely on islands. Sun Bear populations are decreasing rapidly partly due to habitat destruction and poaching for sun bear bile (used in traditional medicine), also because of over-exploitation for their parts which is used as part of ceremonial dances.

Sun bears are found in Indonesia and other southeast Asian countries.

What is the Sun Bear’s Habitat?

Sun Bears come from tropical rainforests, where they can climb trees as well as walk on the ground. Sun Bears live mainly in trees and spend little time on the ground because of their short claws.

Why are Sun Bears endangered?

Sun Bears are endangered because poaching is the main cause of their decreasing population. Sun Bears are one of the most endangered animals in the world. There are about 2,500 left in the wild. They are related to Red Pandas and have a long snout and narrow skull which is smaller than other bears’.

Some are killed for their fur but more often they’re killed for meat. Sun Bears live in the countries such as Indonesia, but the sun bear populations have decreased over time so they may be completely wiped out in the future.

How long do Sun Bears live for in the wild?

Sun Bears usually live around 25 years in the wild. You can find them in Indonesia or Southeast Asia. They’re close relatives to Red Pandas, with broad jaws and skulls that are much bigger than Sun Bears’. Sun Bear cubs are white when they’re born but gradually become all-brown by the time they reach one year old.

Sun Bears have distinctive Latin names that commemorate their indigenous human neighbors: ursus malayanus isangae means “bear of Borneo” or Bornean sun bear.

The Sun Bear is an endangered species with only about 2000 left in the world today, most of whom reside in Indonesian forests on Sumatra or on Borneo.

How old can Sun Bears get to be before they die naturally?

Sun Bears live for anywhere from five to twenty years in the wild. Sun Bears are considered an endangered species, which means it is illegal to hunt these animals and they can currently only be found in certain parts of southeast Asia.

Do sun bears have any other names, besides Sun Bear Cubs or Malayan Sun Bears?

The Sun Bear (Helarctos Malayanus) is also known as the Bornean Sun Bear, Honey Bear, or Malayan Sun Bear. They are medium-sized bear species that live in Southeast Asia. They’re the only bear found exclusively in Asia.

Sun Bears are one of the most endangered species worldwide, with only around 2000 left in the wild, making them one of the most threatened animal species on Earth. Sun Bear populations have steadily decreased by up to 60% since 1990.

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