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Sun bear

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Sun bear
Sun bear.jpg
Scientific Classification
Binomial Name

Helarctos malayanus

malayanus sun bears fighting
Sun bear fight.jpg

Sun bears are the smallest species of bear in the taxonomic family Ursidae. They are named 'sun' bears because of the shape around their chest. This unique mark is horseshoe-shaped, and is yellow or orange colored, and this means 'rising sun'. They are created to climb the trees well with the long claws, small bodies, and strong legs. Living in the trees gave them good ways to live. It lets them eat honey from bee hive, and insects living in the trees easily with the sharp claws and one-foot long tongue. It also provides a perfect domain for sun bears, who are nocturnal(act at night), to keep away from its predators. They live in the dense lowland forests of Southeast Asia. These bears do not go through the hibernation, because of their habitats in tropical rain forests. Sun bears are omnivorous, eating small birds, small mammals, fruits, and the nests of bees.

Their population is decreasing resulted usually by hunting. They produce medicines using them and their gall bladders are worth much more the amount of a pure gold. Another big reason is the cubs (babies) of sun bears are captured as pets. They are non-aggressive, and attractive to many people.


unique mark around sun bear's chest

Sun bears differ from other bears by their appearance. They are discovered as the smallest bears in the family Ursidae, sizing about 1 meters in body length. Males are a little bigger than female, and their weight is about 150 pounds. With their small size compared by other bears, they can move easily between trees, allowing them to spend the night high above the ground.[1] Their fur is entirely black except the unique shape on their chests. This crescent shape is gold or white colored, same color as the around of its eyes. This mark can overstate the bear's sizes during fight with other bears.[2] Sun bears have short mouth, and small and round ears. Paws are large enough to climb the trees really well, and claws are sharp pointed, long, and curved.[3]

Senses Bear's sense of smell, sight, and hearing are incredibly remarkable and they are affected by these senses for the survival. They can smell their young, mate, food, or dangers from miles away. They also use smelling ability to keep away from other bear's territory by smelling their urine and droppings. Their amazing eyesight also helps them to identify the food and dangers. Even their ears are small, they can hear little animals, which would be their food, scampering around beneath the leaves. Their too sensitive senses may result them more stress, but they can easily get away from many dangers.[4]

Sun bear's foot long tongue

TongueSun bears have about a foot long tongue for eating. This lengthy tongue can help sun bear to gain the honey from beehives, or insects inside the trees. Getting the honey from bee nests gave these bears a nickname, "honey bear." They can easily get the food they want from narrow places, such as coconuts, oil palms, and other commercial crops.[5][6]

Territory Many mammal kinds do not violate the others' domain. Therefore making a sign or mark in the nature to indicate their territories is important for the bears too. Unlike the other bears, sun bears carve a claw marks in trees. We can see the marks on trees often in parts of Asia, where sun bears live. The perfect reason of marking is not clear, but through this act we can learn and study more about them.


Sun bears may have only one mate for their whole life, at any time of the year. They normally raise 2 or 3 cubs and do not leave them until they can survive on their own; 2 years. Cubs, after the female's gestation period of 3 months, are hairless, blind, and weigh 10 to 15 ounces. They become sexually mature in short time, males in 3 years, and females in only 2 years. These young are often kept as pets for people because they are playful and attractive. But they become more dangerous as they grow older, which makes us take them to nature. And they will live for 25 to 28 years of life. [7]


Smithsonian National Zoological Park , Washington DC.

Sun bears do not hibernate, because they live in tropical rain forest of southeastern Asia. This mainland is known for long dry season(3-7 months), while the rain falls 100mm per month. The seasonal forest type is usually placed in a mosaic, which includes semi-evergreen, and mixed deciduous. They are designed to climb the trees well with their long claws, strong legs, and small bodies. They make their homes in the branches of trees, keeping them away from their predators such as tigers and other possible predators. These bears are nocturnal, so having homes in the trees help them to rest or sunbathing during the day. Sun bears are omnivores and living on the trees is a perfect way to live freely. They were once reported to live in mangrove forests, but not in commons. They use selectively logged areas, and oil palm plantations near forest edges. However, there is no evidence that sun bears can survive in deforested or agricultural areas because there are no forests near by. [8][9]

Their four-inch long claws are handy to climb the trees, and tear apart the trees where insects are. These sharp claws are also useful to protect themselves from other predators, within its canine teeth. Sun bears can protect themselves from dangers with their body form. They have very long claws, canine teeth, and their loose skin can also protect them during the fight. While they are being bitten by a predator, they can turn their body quickly and bite its attacker. These facts can tell us that these bears are built for the protection.[10]


Sun Bear Bile Extraction Operation in Mong La, Shan, Myanmar.

Although sun bears are small, they do not have many natural predators. But they are hunted repeatedly by stray tigers, and disturbed by snakes. But the biggest hunter is human. Humans have been hunting them for a long time, therefore it caused the sun bears to be in part of endangered species. Poaching is another huge threat for sun bears. Countries from southern Asia, such as Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam are known for illegal poaching for its gall bladder. These are traded illegally as Chinese medicine, and it can cost up to the price 18 times of gold. [11]There are very few left in the wild, and rest are kept in zoo or protected in some safe areas. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature),classified the sun bears as sixth bear species threatened due to its vulnerable. [12][13]

  • Number of sun bears is constantly getting low. The first reason is deforestation of their natural place of living.
  • Hunting (these bears are hunted for sport, fur, meat and gall bladder, which is useful improving health). And Malayan sun bears are hunted for bile and paws.
  • Young bears are sold as pets (as they are considered to be small and non-offensive to people).



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