Lifestyle and Lifespan
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.
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.
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.
Dense, lowland tropical forests. They have only been found in primary forests, never in reforested logged land.
Because the insects in their diet are easily found, they do not travel very far.
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.
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.
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.
Sun bears build nests up in trees, in fallen logs, and cavities in standing trees.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
Born in 2008, she came to Oakland Zoo in 2010. She is the youngest of our bears and the younger sister of Bulan. She is easily recognizable by her completely connected, donut shaped crest, and her laid back demeanor.
Born in 2006, she came to Oakland Zoo in 2008, just a couple months before her younger sister Pagi was born. She has a “U” shaped crest that is covered in black spots, resembling freckles, and is often known by the keepers as the very curious and more “mischievous” of the bears.
Born in 1990, she came to Oakland Zoo in 2006. She is our oldest bear and easily recognizable by her “V” shaped crest and very loose, wrinkly skin. Sadly comes from a more common occurrence happening in the wild today. Ting Ting was just a cub when her mother was killed, and sold into the pet trade by poachers. Eventually confiscated, she was sent to a couple organizations, before making her way to her forever home here at Oakland Zoo. Many sun bears face this threat, in addition to habitat loss due to the growing Palm Oil business.
You can help sun bears in the wild by purchasing common house hold items and foods without palm oil and by visiting Oakland Zoo! Learn more from our conservation partner, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.