arrow-downarrow-leftarrow-rightarrow-upchevron-upchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-upclosecomment-newemail-newgallerygridheadphones-newheart-filledheart-openmap-geolocatormap-pushpinArtboard 1Artboard 1Artboard 1minusng-borderpauseplayplusreplayscreenArtboard 1sharefacebookgithubArtboard 1Artboard 1linkedinlinkedin_inpinterestpinterest_psnapchatsnapchat_2tumblrtwittervimeovinewhatsappspeakerstar-filledstar-openzoom-in-newzoom-out-new

Animals Photo Ark

Sun Bear

View Images
A sun bear photographed at Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Illinois

About the Sun Bear

The reclusive sun bear, smallest member of the bear family, lives an insular life in the dense lowland forests of Southeast Asia.

Characteristics

Found from southern China to eastern India and as far south as Indonesia, sun bears, also called Malayan sun bears, take their name from the bib-shaped golden or white patch on their chest, which legend says represents the rising sun. They have a stocky, muscular build, small ears, and a short muzzle, which has earned them the nickname “dog bear.” Their sleek, black coat is short to avoid overheating in the tropical weather but thick and coarse to provide protection from twigs, branches, and rain.

Sun bears grow to only about half the size of an American black bear. Males, slightly larger than females, are about 5 feet in length and weigh up to 150 pounds, a stature which suits their arboreal lifestyle and allows them to move easily through the trees. They have even been observed making sleeping platforms high above the ground out of branches and leaves.

Diet and Feeding

Ironically, sun bears are nocturnal. They lumber through the forests by night, snacking on fruits, berries, roots, insects, small birds, lizards, and rodents. They have an excellent sense of smell and extremely long claws, exceeding four inches in length, which they use to rip open trees and termite nests. They also have an almost comically long tongue for extracting honey from bee nests, giving them their other nickname, “honey bear.”

Reproduction

Little is known about the social life of these bears, but there is some evidence that suggests they may be monogamous. Mother bears, called sows, make ground nests and give birth to one or two blind, helpless babies that weigh about 11 ounces. Mothers have actually been observed cradling a cub in their arms while walking on their hind legs, a rare trait among bears. Cubs can move about after two months and are weaned by four months, but they remain with their mothers for two years or more.

Conservation

Because of their remote habitat and shy personality, gathering conservation data on sun bears is difficult, but scientists fear the worst. Their homelands are being lost rapidly to deforestation, poachers hunt them mercilessly for body parts and fur, and some farmers kill them on site because they often eat crops such as oil palm, coconuts, and bananas. Adult females are also frequently killed so their cubs can be taken and raised as pets.


WATCH: Protecting the Sun Bears of Borneo

See how the small sun bear, native to southeast Asia, is struggling to survive amid deforestation and poaching.