Sun Bear

Location

In the Zoo

Scientific Information

Scientific Name: Helarctos malayanus euryspilus
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Helarctos

Size

Male

Female

Height: 2 feet 2 feet
Length: 4-5 feet 3-5 feet
Weight: 60-145 pounds 60-120 punds
Maturity: 3 years 3 years

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Diet: Omnivorous
Activity Timeframe: Diurnal
Interactivity: Solitary
Sexual Dimorphism: Yes
Gestation: 95 days
Lifespan in the Wild: Unknown
Lifespan in Captivity: 30 years

Geographic Range

Southeast Asia. Eastern Himalayas to Szechaun, China, then down to Burma, Indonesia, and parts of Malaysia.

Conservation

Status in the Wild: Vulnerable
Threats: Habitat Loss

Characteristics

There are 8 species of bear in the world. They are large mammals which have small tails, usually hidden by their fur. Their claws are curved and non-retractable for digging and climbing.

Species Specifics

Sun bears are the smallest of all the bears. Their yellow or orange "U" shaped chest crest distinguishes them as well. They turn in all four feet while walking. They do not hibernate because of their tropical location which allows food to be present all year long.The population on Borneo has a distinct scientific classification: H. m. euryspilus.

Physical Characteristics

Their long tongues are used to reach insects in tight spaces and clean out honey from beehives. A sun bear's tongue can be 8-10 inches long.They have long, sickle-shaped claws used for foraging and climbing trees. The pads of their paws are hairless which helps them climb trees. The U shaped crest on their chest may make sun bears appear larger during a fight. Their loose skin also allows them to turn during a fight and better attack their opponent, even when held.

Ecology

Habitat

Dense, lowland tropical forests. They have only been found in primary forests, never in reforested logged land.

Distribution

Because the insects in their diet are easily found, they do not travel very far.

Diet

Sun bears are opportunistic omnivores. They primarily rely on termites, bees, and earthworms. They will also feed on fruit and honey. They may feed on small rodents, birds, and tiger kills. In human populated areas, they will eat trash, livestock, and crops.

Ecological Web

Sun bear feces contain many seeds from the fruit they eat so they are an important seed disperser. They also control insect populations and increase soil aeration when they dig for insects. The holes they create in trees to reach honey or insects become nesting sites for flying squirrels and hornbills.

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern

They can be active at night or day but mostly forage during the day. They will also spend the day sleeping and sunning in nests they build in trees anywhere from 7 ft to over 20 ft high.

Behavior

Sun bears build nests up in trees, in fallen logs, and cavities in standing trees.

Social Behavior

Cubs stay with their mother for 3 years. Males and females will come together during mating. Other than these times, sun bears are thought to be solitary.

Reproductive Behavior

Very little is known about their reproduction. They likely use vocalizations and smell to find a mate. They may hug, mock fight, and head bob during courtship. Gestation lasts about 95 days and they may be capable of delayed implantation. Females make nests on the ground or in tree cavities, either standing or fallen.

Offspring

It's unknown how often a female can give birth during a year. Litters are usually 1-2, rarely 3. Cubs are born blind and furless, weighing about 10-12 ounces. Mothers have been seen walking on their hind legs carrying their cub in their front paws. They stay with their mother until they are sexually mature at 3 years old.

Conservation

Status

Listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. Listed on Appendix I of CITES. The IUCN estimates the population has decreased more than 30% over the past 30 years, though there is not enough data on sun bears to know for sure.

Historical

Sun bear fossils have been found in northern China and the island of Java but they have not been present there historically. This was probably due to natural changes in their range, not human interference.

Current Threats

Habitat Loss

Our Role

We are partnered with the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre. They house over 40 rescued sun bears at their center, some of whom are working towards release back into the wild.

How You Can Help

Avoid palm oil! 90% of palm oil is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia and because of deforestation for palm crops, the UN estimates by 2022, 98% of Indonesia's forests will be gone. You can help by cutting out palm oil from your life and only buying sustainable palm oil. Download the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo shopping guide to find sustainable products: http://www.cmzoo.org/index.php/conservation-matters/palm-oil-crisis/. Check out the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil website to learn more about sustainability: https://www.rspo.org/

Fascinating Facts

The name "sun" bear may have come because the chest crest resembles a rising sun. Sun bears are also called dog bears because of their stocky build and honey bears because of their affinity for honey. Their Malayan name, basindo nan tenggil, means "he who likes to sit high."

Sun bears will lie on their backs while feeding, bringing to mind Winnie the Pooh with his honey pot.

Dr. Siew Tu Wong is one of the few researchers doing work on sun bears. He founded the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre. He is the co-chair of the IUCN Sun Bear Expert Team.

References

University of Michigan. Animal Diversity Web. "Helarctos malayanus." http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Helarctos_malayanus/

Oregon Zoo. "Malayan sun bear." http://www.oregonzoo.org/discover/animals/malayan-sun-bear

Red List. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. "Helarctos malayanus." http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/9760/0

iNaturalist. "Genus Helarctos." http://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/41654-Helarctos

Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre. http://www.bsbcc.org.my/

National Geographic. "Sun Bear." http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/sun-bear/

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