taking action for

Sun Bears

The Oakland Zoo was the first organization to donate to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, an organization that provides sanctuary for 46 rescued sun bears. We have helped inspire thousands of visitors to protect sun bears by choosing to use only sustainable palm oil.

The plight of the Malayan Sun Bear is not for the weak of heart. This species is in drastic decline; there could be less than 1,000 of these bears left in the wild. Sun bears, the smallest of all bear species, have a unique U-shaped crest on their chest and are found in Southeast Asia. Besides facing a shrinking habitat due to deforestation for palm oil, these bears are being poached for their parts and bear bile farms. Oakland Zoo is dedicated to a hopeful future for these animals by supporting conservation in Borneo, and increasing public awareness about choices we can make to help sun bears thrive in the wild.

Conservation Challenges

Loss of Habitat

Large-scale deforestation and degradation throughout southeast Asia over the past three decades (clear-cutting for plantation development of palm oil, unsustainable logging practices, illegal logging) has dramatically reduced sun bears' forest habitat, and are pushing this bear to the brink of extinction. Because sun bears are elusive animals, it is hard to track their numbers. It is estimated the sun bear population has declined by at least 30% in the last 30 years, and sun bears were classified as 'vulnerable' in 2007, meaning they are at high risk of extinction in the wild (IUCN 2007).

Illegal Poaching

Sun Bears are illegally hunted for a few tragic reasons. As agriculture spreads into their habitat, the bears are killed to prevent damage to crops. Being the smallest bear, cubs are also captured for the illegal pet trade. As pets, many are condemned to spend their lives in small cages in which they often cannot even stand up or turn around. They are also trapped for their body parts. Bear bile farms exist today and require the bears to be caged while bile is harvested from their gall bladders. The “milking” practice requires the bears to remain alive and is painful and inhumane. Bear bile is sold and used for medicinal purposes, which is scientifically proven to have no medical value. It is a horrific life for a bear and continues to happen because the farming of bear bile is profitable and deeply rooted in Asian cultures. Sun bears are also poached for their body parts, mostly paws, which are an expensive delicacy.

Oakland Zoo is Taking Action for the Sun Bear

Project Support

The Zoo supports the mission of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), located in Sabah, Malaysia, through an annual partnership grant.

Community Engagement

Oakland Zoo shares conservation issues facing sun bears and empowering solutions to conserve them to the public through a variety of channels: Docents and Volunteers, Teen Wild Guides, Education programs, events, exhibits, campaigns, Keeper Talks, and media stories.

Oakland Zoo is committed to combating the Illegal Wildlife Trade and promoting sustainable palm oil purchases and encourages our community to Take Action for Wildlife by joining our Illegal Wildlife Trade pledge and choosing Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) palm oil products while shopping.

Leadership Training and Staff Expertise

Oakland Zoo provides yearly professional training for field partners and offers myriad staff skills and resources to enhance conservation efforts. In 2013, a team of Oakland Zoo staff and volunteers traveled to Borneo to help the BSBCC prepare their visitor center for their grand opening to the public. Oakland Zoo’s veterinary staff members have also travelled to Malaysia to provide hands-on assistance in moving and providing medical care to the sun bears currently being rehabilitated by the BSBCC.

Eco-Travel with Impact

Oakland Zoo’s Eco-Travel to Borneo includes a special visit with the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre. The trip provides its travelers with authentic hands-on work at the Centre, engagement with the local community, and needed supplies. Oakland Zoo offers travel participants a unique glimpse into the complexities of conservation issues and solutions to positively impact our partner projects, our travelers, and wildlife.

Forever Homes

Oakland Zoo is committed to animal welfare and offers a forever home to animals in need due to injury, parental loss due to car strikes or fires, the illegal pet trade, human-wildlife conflict, or other challenges. The Zoo’s spacious sun bear habitat is one of the largest habitats of its kind in the United States. Ting Ting was just a cub when her mother was killed by poachers. Ting Ting was sold into the pet trade where she lived in a small cage for four years before being confiscated by the Malaysian government and sent to a refuge. In 2000 the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) arranged to import bears from this refuge to the United States. In 2006, Ting Ting arrived at her forever home at Oakland Zoo where she lived happily until she passed away in October 2022. Bulan was born in 2006 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. Pagi was born in 2008 and came to Oakland Zoo in 2010.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (Borneo)

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre provides a space to confiscate, rehabilitate and release orphaned and ex-captive bears back into the wild, while providing an improved long-term living environment for those that cannot be released.

Animals Asia Logo

Animals Asia

Animals Asia is devoted to ending bear bile farming and improving the welfare of animals across Asia.

Taking Action for Sun Bears: You Can Too!

  • NEVER buy medicine or other items made with bear body parts, and do not support vendors that sell such items.
  • SPEAK OUT against the illegal wildlife exotic pet trade and never keep wild animals as pets.  
  • TAKE Oakland Zoo’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Pledge to save animals from the exotic pet trade.  
  • LOOK for products that use Sustainable Palm Oil when shopping.