The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is a Southeast Asian bear that lives in tropical forest settings. The IUCN has classified it as Vulnerable because large-scale deforestation has severely reduced adequate habitat for the sun bear in it’s primary habitat, Southeast Asia. This shy bear is best spotted in the wild with a help of a guide in Thai national parks such as Kaeng Krachan National Park.
What is a sun bear? Because of its ravenous taste for honeycomb and honey, the Malayan sun bear is also known as the “honey bear.” The honey coloured markings on it’s chest and face makes the sun bear easily recognizable from other bears.
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Physical Characteristics of the Sun Bear
The sun bear is the tiniest bear in the world and is characterized by huge paws, highly curled claws, small rounded ears, and a short snout; plus this diminutive bear has a stocky build with a usualy ponderous gait.
The length of the head and body is between 100 and 140 centimeters, with a shoulder height of about 70 centimeters (28 in). Adults weigh between 25 and 65 kg. The snout might be grey, silver, or orange in color. The fur is usually jet black, but it can also be grey or reddish. The distinctive breast patch, which is usually U-shaped but can sometimes be circular or spot-like.
The breast patch varies from the spectacular honey hue like it’s namesake or colors ranging from orange to ochre-yellow to cream, and even white. Some sun bears may not even have a patch. Their hair is silky and smooth, and it’s the shortest of all bear species, which is more appropriate for their hot tropical environment.
As a threat demonstration against potential opponents, sun bears often reveal the patch when standing on their hind feet. Infants have a greyish black coat with a pale brown or white snout and a filthy white chest patch, whilst older juveniles have a dark brown coat.
Adults have thicker, blacker underfur, with lighter guard hairs. The hair extends in all directions from two whirls on the shoulders. The sides of the neck have a crest, and the breast patch has a whirl in the center. The paws’ margins are tan or brown, while the soles are hairless, presumably as a climbing adaptation.
Habitat of Sun Bears
Sun bears are found in Southeast Asia’s tropical woods; their range is bordered to the north by northeastern India and continues south to southeast via mainland Asia’s Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam to Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
In 2017, their presence in China was confirmed after years of speculation when they were spotted in Yunnan Province’s Yingjiang County. Sun bears are no longer found in Singapore.
Throughout its habitat, these bears generally inhabit two types of forests: deciduous and seasonally evergreen forests north of the Isthmus of Kra, and non-seasonal evergreen forests in Indonesia and Malaysia.
They prefer low elevations, such as below 1,200 m (3,900 ft) in western Thailand and peninsular Malaysia. However, this varies greatly across the range; in India, higher numbers have been observed at elevations of up to 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) than in low-lying places, owing to habitat degradation at ground level.
Behavior of Sun Bears
Sun bears are the most arboreal (tree-dwelling) of all bear species. They are most active during the day, while nocturnality may be more prevalent in human-populated regions. The sun bear is a skilled climber, sunbathing or sleeping in trees ranging in height from 2 to 7 meters (7 to 23 ft).
Fallen hollow logs are the most common bedding place, although they also rest in standing trees with cavities, cavities beneath logs or tree roots, and tree branches high above the ground. This small bear is a renowned swimmer as well.
Sun bears are known for their intellect; when a captive bear saw sugar being placed in a cabinet and then locked with a key, it used its paw to open the lock. Sun bears can copy facial emotions with precision equivalent to that found in some primates, according to a study published in 2019. (such as gorillas and humans).
Fantastic Facts About the Sun Bear
- Sun bears will some times walk into the Kaeng Krachan Thai national park, camp ground to the amazement of campers
- Based on complete mitochondrial DNA sequences the sun bear is related to other species of Ursidae.
- Sun bears are the most tree dwelling of all bears.
Diet of the Sun Bear
Sun bears are omnivores who eat a wide range of foods including ants, bees, beetles, honey, termites, and plant material such as seeds and various fruits. Vertebrates including birds, deer, eggs, and reptiles are occasionally eaten.
Honey bears use their long, keen claws and teeth to rip into hollow trees in pursuit of wild bees and honey. They also break termite mounds and quickly lick and suck the contents, using their front paws to retain ants of the broken mound. They consume a lot of figs and eat them whole.
Fruits of Moraceae, Burseraceae, and Myrtaceae species accounted up more than half of the fruit diet in a research in Kalimantan’s forests; when fruit was scarce, sun bears converted to a more insectivorous diet.
Sun bears play an essential role in Canarium pilosum seed distribution, according to a study conducted in Central Borneo (a tree in the family Burseraceae). Sun bears eat the cores of coconut palms and acorns, which are oil-rich seeds. Oil palms are nutrient-dense, but not enough to feed a family of honey bears.
Threats to Sun Bears
Sun bear numbers have declined by 35 percent in the last three decades, according to the IUCN Bear Specialist Group. Bangladesh and China have particularly low populations, and Vietnam’s population is expected to drop by 50–80 percent in the next 30 years.
Habitat fragmentation is becoming more common, especially in Borneo, Sumatra, and parts of the mainland range. Deforestation (owing to agriculture, logging, and forest fires) and wildlife trade hunting pose serious hazards across the range, while human-bear conflicts are a minor concern.
The debatably cruel practice of bile milking bears still exists. About 12,000 bears are held in captivity on farms in Vietnam and China, where they are “milked” for the digestive fluid which is used in alternative medicine. While this ensures sun bears won’t become extinct, it encourages poaching frm their natural habitat.
Conservation Status of Sun Bears
The IUCN Red List classifies the sun bear as Vulnerable, and it is included in CITES Appendix I. The sun bear is protected from hunting throughout its range, with the exception of Sarawak (Malaysia) and Cambodia.
Sarawak has the highest rate of poaching and trading of sun bear parts in Malaysia, according to a 2014 investigation; the researchers advised that the state enact stronger legislation to preserve local sun bears.
Q & A About Sun Bears
Is it true that sun bears are dangerous?
The sun bear is noted for being extremely aggressive and attacking without warning. It is known to be one of the most ferocious animals to encounter in the jungle because of its exceptionally strong jaws, and powerful claws.
Is it true that sun bears are friendly?
Because sun bears are notoriously elusive, little is known about their social behavior. Sun bears, like other bears such as grizzlies and polar bears, are mostly solitary.
How many sun bears are left in the wild?
Sun Bear populations are still falling, and while exact population estimates are unknown, it is estimated that there are currently less than 1,000 individuals in the wild.
Are their sun bear conservation groups?
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, helps raise awareness of the plight of sun bears and saves stricken bears from badly kept captivity.
What species are sun bears?
Sun bears are from the species H. malayanus