Sun Bear

ORDER: Carnivora

FAMILY: Ursidae

GENUS: Helarctos

SPECIES: malayanus

Smallest bear, length about 4.5 feet. Height at shoulder of 2.5 feet. Two-inch tail not easily seen. Weight 60-140 pounds. Coloration of sleek black fur with yellow crescent-shaped breast mark, grayish or orange shortened muzzle. Stocky build. Forearms incurved. Feet are large with strongly curved claws and naked soles. The ears are rounded and short. Head is short and flat with small eyes. Oakland Zoo also supports conservation organizations such as Animals Asia and Saving Sunbears.

Asia, Burma through Southeast Asia, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo. May reach northern China and northeastern India. Dense tropical and subtropical forests at lower elevations.

Omnivorous, using front paws for most of feeding activity. Trees are torn open in search of wild bee nests and for insects and their larvae. Also eat rodents, lizards, small birds, fruit, soft growing parts of palm trees and honey.

Possibly no regular breeding season. Bears often sighted in pairs, leading to notion that they may be monogamous. Sexual maturity reached between 3 and 5 years of age. Mating occurs any time during the year. Litter of two blind, helpless 10-ounce cubs born on forest floor after a gestation of about three and a half months (not believed to have delayed implantation). Cubs walk at 2 months and are weaned at 4 months, but remain with mother for 2 years, learning to survive. Lifespan of 25 years.

Arboreal, nocturnal. Sleep and sun bathe in tree nests formed of bent branches (often as high as 23 feet off the ground). Huge claws aid in climbing and manipulating food items and are probably used in defense as well. Unusually long tongue is used in slurping up insects. Bare soles also aid climbing.

Also called "honey bear". Malayan name, basindo nan tenggil, means "he who likes to sit high". The pigeon-toed gait signals that this animal is arboreal. Chest markings are variable and may even be completely lacking, but the name "sun bear" may be due to the crescent shape usually present, likened to a rising or setting sun. If caught by large predator, can turn in its loose skin and bite attacker.

The Sun Bears can be found in the Tropical Rainforest.

Listed as endangered by CITES. In Thailand, the primary threat is habitat destruction, especially logging, and the pet trade. By law, every man, woman and child is allowed to keep two of any species as pets, except none that are on the brink of extinction. Elsewhere poaching for meat and medicinal use of organs primarily in China, Taiwan, South Korea (greatest consumer) and Japan is the greatest threat. Thai officials say at least 30 sun bears were illegally shipped to South Korea to fortify Korean athletes for the 1988 Olympic Games.They are believed to be extirpated from India and Bangladesh and seriously threatened if not extinct in China, Burma, and Vietnam. Borneo is the one remaining stronghold for these bears. Species listed as Vulnerable by IUCN.


  1. Anon. 1989. "Sun Bear" in ZooNooz, August 1989.
  2. Domico, Terry. 1988. Bears of the World.
  3. Killmar, Karen. 1992. "Making Room for Bears" in Zoonooz, July 1992.
  4. Macdonald, The Encyclopedia of Mammals.
  5. Mills, Judy. 1991. "I Want to Eat Sun Bear" in International Wildlife, Jan/Feb 1991.
  6. Nowak, Ronald and John Paradiso. 1983. Walker
  7. Pace, Nina. 1997. Docent Training lecture on Sun Bears.