One of the most fascinating types of bears in the world can be found in multiple countries in Southeast Asia
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some interesting facts about sun bears, a popular animal in many zoos around the world!
1. They are native to tropical forests in Southeast Asia
Sun Bears are one of the 8 members of the family Ursidae, better known as the bears. They are a distinct species of the genus Helarctos and there are two recognized subspecies, the Malayan sun bear (H. m. malayanus) and the Bornean sun bear (H. m. euryspilus).
These forest animals are native to the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia and can be found in several countries in this region. These countries include India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
The Bornean sun bear can only be found on the third-largest island in the world, Borneo, which is part of Indonesia. They are generally smaller than the Malayan sun bear as well.
2. Their home ranges can vary a lot
The sun bear is a shy and solitary type of animal and prefers the dense tropical rainforest throughout its range. They usually hang out in trees at a height of anywhere between 2 to 7 meters (7 to 23 feet).
Their territory can vary a lot as they occupy a home range of anywhere between 7 and 27 square kilometers (2.5 and 10.5 square miles).
3. It’s the smallest of all bear species
Even though these are far from small animals, they are dwarfed by some of their bigger family members such as the Polar bear and giant panda.
Their body length ranges anywhere between 100 and 140 centimeters (39 and 55 inches) and their shoulder height is about 70 centimeters (28 inches).
Their weight can vary a lot as they weigh anywhere between 25 and 65 kilograms (55 and 143 pounds). Regardless, these bears are quite muscular and are stockily built.
4. Why are they called sun bears?
The scientific name of this type of bear is “Helarctos” which is derived from Greek. It’s a combination of “Helios,” which means “related to the sun,” and “arctos,” which means “bear.”
So why are they called sun bears anyways?
That’s because of the distinctive orange to cream-colored marking on their chest which has a crescent shape. This makes this particular type of bear easily recognizable.
Another name given to this type of bear is “honey bear,” and this refers to the fact that they love to suck honey from honeycombs with their remarkably long tongue which can have a length of between 20 to 25 centimeters (8 to 10 inches).
5. Their bodies are perfectly adapted to climb trees
Other interesting characteristics of this bear’s appearance is their strong paws and interestingly curved claws. These features give them the ability to easily climb trees.
One of the most remarkable facts about Sun Bears is that they are the most arboreal bear species in the world (which means they spend most time hanging out in trees), even more than the spectacled bear in South America!
6. They have very short hair and a distinctive short snout
The fur of sun bears is usually completely black, except for the distinctive marking on their chest. The hair of this animal is also the shortest of any bear species in the world and is extremely fine and silky, which makes it perfectly suited to deal with hot temperatures in sweltering tropical forests.
Another interesting characteristic is the very short snout of these bears. This in combination with their small rounded ears also adds to their distinctive appearance.
7. These bears have something in common with big apes
One of the most intriguing facts about sun bears is that they are extremely intelligent and can mimic certain types of behavior. One bear was spotted opening up a cupboard in which sugar was stored with its claws, and a 2019 study concluded something even more fascinating.
This study concluded that their behavior very much resembles that of big apes such as gorillas and even humans. They mimic each other’s facial expressions to communicate with each other, which is pretty much the cornerstone of our own social interactions.
What makes this study even more fascinating is that sun bears are generally solitary animals and usually avoid social interactions!
8. These animals can be tamed enough to be kept as pets
Do we need to run for our lives if we happen to encounter one of these animals in the wild? Unless provoked or it’s a mother with her cub(s), this type of bear is very unlikely to launch an attack.
Better yet, they tend to avoid places where humans live and hang out at all costs. This means that coming across a sun bear in the wild is very unlikely, to begin with.
Sun bears are very popular zoo animals because they are very tame and laid-back. Back in the 19th century, these animals were even tamed to serve as regular pets!
9. They need to fear a couple of ferocious predators
Sloth bears aren’t the best friend of sun bears so they tend to avoid each other’s territory. This means that the range of sun bears ends where the range of sloth bears begins in the northwestern part. Remarkably, the range of the Asian black bear and sun bear overlaps quite a bit in mainland Asia.
10. These bears have an extremely varied diet
So what do sun bears eat?
These animals are omnivores, which means they both eat plant and animal matter. This also means that they eat a wide variety of things such as ants, bees, beetles, honey, termites, and a wide variety of fruits and seeds.
If these things are scarce they might eat larger prey such as birds, deer, eggs, and even reptiles. Their most favorites hobby is to tear open hollow trees with their enormous claws in the hope to find wild bees and honey, which is their ultimate treat!
11. Cubs remain blind for 50 days after they are born
The birth of cubs can happen at any time of the year and pregnancies range from anywhere between 95 and 245 days. The much longer pregnancies tend to happen in zoos where the temperature is much colder than in their natural habitat.
Cubs are born with their eyes completely closed and only open them for the first time after about 25 days. It takes 25 days more before they can finally see their first glimpses of the world around them!
These cubs will remain with their mothers for nearly 3 years as that’s the time they reach sexual maturity themselves and wander off alone. These animals also live quite long as they generally live over 20 years and some individuals even over 30 years!
12. The sun bear is considered to be an endangered species
The fact that the natural habitat of these bears is dense forests means that heavy deforestation in their range is a serious threat. Especially in Bangladesh and China where the numbers of individuals have dropped by 35%.
This trend isn’t about to stop any time soon as well as their numbers are estimated to drop even further.
Luckily, many programs and organizations are taking active measures to protect the natural habitat of these bears, including for example the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center in Malaysia.
They are also been part of the Species Survival Plan since 1994, a captive-breeding program to save endangered species. The Cologne Zoological Garden is where the active registry of sun bears in Europe is kept.
This means that there is little chance that we won’t be able to admire these amazing creatures in zoos all around the world!