Species Profile: The Sun Bear

The Sun Bear is commonly referred to as the “honey bear”, but make no mistake: this bear is a fearsome predator.

Female Sun Bear at a Zoo

Female Sun B At The Zoo Of Basel. Look At Those Impressive Claws! (Author: Tambako The Jaguar cc by-s.a. 2.0)

The Sun Bear holds the title of the smallest bear worldwide. It’s found in parts of the tropical forest habitats of Southeast Asia.

This bear is also called the “honey bear”, because of its almost insatiable appetite for honey and honeycombs. The sun bear is characteristically jet-black with a contrasting crescent shaped mark on the neck area hence the name “sun bear.”

Though a few individuals are red/gray in color.

This bear is known for its excessively aggressive behavior and may frequently attack “intruders” without warning. Its robust teeth, powerful bite force, and long, curved claws make for a very dangerous combination.

In fact, these bears are generally considered among some of the most dangerous animals you can encounter in the jungle!

Sun bears are generally solitary except for mothers with their cubs.

1) Scientific Name

Helarctos Malayanus

2) Scientific Classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Ursidae
  • Genus: Helarctos

3) Life Expectancy

The life expectancy of the sun bear is between 15 and 30 years.

4) Average/Maximum Length

An adult male sun bear grows to an average length of 51 to 74 inches though these are the smallest bears among the ursids. Females are 10 to 20 percent smaller.

5) Average/Maximum Weight

Adults of this species weigh between 27 to 66 kg (60 to 145 lbs.).

6) Maximum Running Speed

Larger individuals have a maximum running speed of 48 kph (30 mph) while smaller ones run at 38 kph (24 mph).

7) Interaction With/Danger To Humans

  • Interaction With Humans

The sun bear is not a very well-known species among humans. As a result, people tend to react with fear immediately they see it for the first time.

Though the sun bear will avoid areas where there is a high concentration of humans and they only get attracted by the scent of food. Humans hunt these bears for their gall bladders (for alternative medicine), for food, and for harvesting of their body parts. The gall bladder trade in particular has put immense pressure on this bear’s population.

People also hunt and capture the cubs once they are able to kill their mother.

Another problem is that farmers regard the sun bear as a crop pest and livestock predator.

  • Danger To Humans

    A Sun Bear

    Sun Bears Have Very Long And Sharp Claws.

The sun bear is extremely violent, ferocious, and is dangerous to humans whenever they are surprised. In addition, they respond with aggression when they fight for food.

 The sun bear is the most violent of the tropical forest animals in its vicinity and can attack humans and inflict serious wounds if provoked, surprised, or wounded.

8) Reproduction Details

Though there is little information about the reproductive details of the sun bear in the wild, they apparently don’t have a defined mating season. Fertilized females will usually produce a litter with just one or at most two cubs after a gestation period of three to six months.

Newborns weigh about 284 grams (10 ounces). Cubs stay with their mothers for 2 years by which time they are fully grown and developed.

Bears of this species mature sexually from 3 years old.

9) Diet/Hunting Pattern Of The Sun Bear

The sun bear’s diet is omnivorous, and basically includes fruits, nuts, termites, ants, and the occasional scavenging. They will also eat beetle grubs, and various vegetative substances. This bear species may assemble to feed on large fruiting trees, though such gatherings are quite rare.

Unfortunately, they like to eat cash crops like palm fruits, and rubber and they tear trees apart while searching for larvae. Because of this trait, they end up destroying many crops on farms. Of course this causes inevitable conflict between these bears and the farmers in its region.

However, their attack strategy when hunting live prey is fearful as they will clamp on the animal with their teeth from behind causing almost instant death.

As the sun bear resides in tropical regions with year-round available food and warmth, they do not spend winter time in hibernation.

 The sun bear is a fearsome predator that mostly bites down on prey from behind.

10) Alternative Names

  • Dog Bear
  • Honey Bear
  • Malay or Malaysian Sun Bear

11) Population And Conservation Status

There is a large presence of firearms and unregulated hunting in many of the local communities where this bear resides. Therefore, it’s possible that sun bears are wounded or killed whenever the opportunity arises. Large-scale deforestation throughout most of Southeast Asia has dramatically shrunk the suitable habitat for the sun bear.

Locals also buy and sell sun bear paws, gall bladders, live cubs, and skins both to neighboring Thailand, China and also internally. Consequently, estimates suggest a population reduction of over 30 percent over the past three bear generations.

Despite these conditions, they are still vastly distributed within most of their native countries. Except for the most heavily settled and cultivated portions of the Mekong Plain. Presently, specific population figures are unknown but this species still appears relatively plentiful.

It is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN.

 The number one threat to sun bears remains man.

12) Ancestry And History

This bear is native to the sub-tropical and tropical regions of Southeast Asia and southern Asia. Historically, its territory extends over most of southeastern Asia mainland, as far west as Assam, the higher Chitwan District in India, and as far north as Tibet and the Szechuan Province in China and Nepal.

The sun bear species is now extinct in China.

There are two subspecies of this bear: Helarctos Malaynus Malaynus (Sumatra and Asian Mainland), and Herlarctos Malaynus Euryspilus (Borneo).

13) Distribution And Habitat

Sun bears live in the tropical rainforest of Southeastern Asia from northeastern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Peninsular Malaysia. Their territory continues into Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, in to the southern Yunnan Province in China, and the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia.

Their population is patchy and fragmented because of human activities and they are extinct in some areas they once existed.

Typically, this bear’s preferred habitat is in tropical evergreen forests.

 

References:

1. http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Helarctos_malayanus/

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_bear

3. www.carnivoreconservation.org/files/thesis

Photo Credits:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_bear#/media/File:Sitting_sun_bear.jpg\

2. www.pixabay.com