Sun bears (Ursidae Helarctos malayanus) are the smallest bear types and one of the rarest bears in the world. These bears also go by the names honey bear, dog bear, and Malay/Malaysian bear.
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Sun bears inhabit rainforests of Southeast Asia. They live in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Laos. Many dwell around Laos due to the rugged terrain of the area, lack of human interference, and lots of forested areas.
For comparison, the sun bear is about half the size of an American black bear. Most adults of the species way between 60 to 145 pounds and measure about 48 to 60 inches in length. Females are around 10 to 20 percent smaller than males.
They have short and thick black fur that is water/mud repellant. The Sun bears’ short muzzles can be light gray to orange. Sun bears have smaller and more rounded ears when compared to most other bears; however, they do have excellent hearing. They have inward-facing feet similar to that of a sloth bear. They have long, sharp claws and are great tree climbers.
Perhaps their most notable feature is the long narrow tongue which they use to get honey from hives and collect insects hiding deep within the crevices of trees. They have flatter teeth compared to other bears, and the number of rings on their teeth tell their age.
Sun bears are aggressive and are known to attack without warning. They are one of the most dangerous animals to encounter in the forest, given their sturdy jar, large canines, and long claws.
Sun bears love honey. The bees are also part of their diet. Thus, they also go by the name of honey bears. They are omnivorous mammals and will also feed on termites, ants, and fruits. They also eat flowers and palms, but that’s about as far as the vegetative matter goes for their diet. The diet of the Thailand sun bear is very similar to that of the Asiatic black bear since their habitat overlaps.
Sun bears reproduce at various times during the year. Mating lasts about a week. Their gestation period is around 95 days. They give birth to 1-2 cubs in a nest deep in the forest’s undergrowth.
Cubs are born blind and hairless. They weigh about 7 ounces. Though they are fragile at birth, the cubs develop rather quickly and can forage alongside the mother at 1 or 2 months old. The cubs usually stay with their mothers until they are nearly full-grown. Females reach maturity at about three years, and males four years.
Habitat loss and hunting are the two main threats that sun bears face. The bears are hunted for their meat and use in medicine. Their fur is also desirable, and poachers sell the bears as exotic pets. The population of sun bears declined by 30 percent or more over the last 30 years.
Sun bears are listed on the IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species since 1978 and are listed as vulnerable. The average lifespan in captivity is 25 to 28 years. However, their lifespan in the wild is unknown; but, 12 to 24 years is the consensus.
- Saving Sun Bears in Borneo – https://www.lclark.edu/live/news/26188-saving-sun-bears-in-borneo
- Ecological overlap of sympatric sun bears and Asiatic black bears in tropical forest, Thailand. – https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/54849
- Survival strategies of the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) in the lower Kinabatangan, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo – https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/181792
- ARKive: Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) – https://web.archive.org/web/20060507173445/http://www.arkive.org/species/GES/mammals/Helarctos_malayanus/
- San Diego Zoo’s Animal Bytes: Sun Bear – http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-sun_bear.html
- Bornean Sun Bear Conservation – https://web.archive.org/web/20140218113140/http://sunbears.wildlifedirect.org/
- The effects of selective logging on Malayan sun bears in lowland tropical rainforest of Borneo – https://web.archive.org/web/20100628071048/http://www.cfc.umt.edu/GrizzlyBearRecovery/Publications%20International.html
- Pills, Powders, Vials, and Flakes: the bear bile trade in Asia – http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/traffic_species_mammals65.pdf