Bears of the world – the Sun Bear

For the second article, after the moon bear, we would like to say something about the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus).

Very little is known about this bear, and since probably it’s the rarest, it may disappear before we could know more about it. It lives in tropical rainforests of the Southeast Asia, from Bangladesh till the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, where the food is available year-round and for this reason it doesn’t hybernate. Its name comes from the golden patch on its chest, but it is also called“Malayan bear”thanks for its geographic location or “honey bear”due to its love for honey.

It’s the smallest bear in the world (when it is born it weights around only 300g, and bigger males can reach 1.50m length and 65kg weight) and is very adapted for climbing: has very long (longest than any bear) and sharp claws, with which it can even open coconuts, and its soles are naked. It spends most of its time on trees and for these reasons in Malaysia it is called basindo nan tenggil which means “he who likes to sit high”. If disturbed, can let himself drop to the ground and then run away.

It is omnivorous, eating a great variety of food, but the main part of its diet is composed by bees, insects’larvae and honey, which it eats with its 25 cm tongue, and fruits, especially figs. Another curious fact about this bear is that it has very large canines and a straordinary bite forces (in relation to its body size), and the scientists still are not sure what is the reason, but the most accepted theory is that it often opens tropical hardwood trees in pursuit of insects.

Despite its small size, it is known to be the most aggressive bear, and it is said to attack people without reason. The fact is that it can show territorial and aggressive behaviors in habitats where food is a limited resources (like in Borneo rainforests), and the male bears compete for access to female bears.

In nature just tigers, leopards and pythons can be potential predators. If it does get attacked, it has loose and wrinkled skin around its neck, so it can turn around and attack predators that bite it on its back!


Main threatens to sun bear is habitat loss usually due to palm oil and rubber industries: deforestation, clear-cutting for plantation development, unsustainable and/or illegal logging practices and human-caused fires are seriously endangering the natural forests it needs to survive.

Where jungle is less threatened by these practices (in Thailand almost all forests are protected), hunting is the main danger for this bear: killing sun bears is strictly prohibited under national wildlife protection laws throughout their range, but is largely uncontrolled and the illegal trade is still very powerful.

Even if less than the Asian black bear, sun bears are also poached for their gall bladders (i.e., bile) used as a Traditional Chinese Medicine, and killed for the meat, especially bear-paws which are sold as an expensive delicacy. Other motivations for killing bears include: preventing damage to crops, subsistence use, fear of bears near villages (for example although few sun bears exist in India, villagers there still kill considerable numbers).

Due to its small size, there is a big trade for cubs, for being used as pets: little bears are taking away from the forest, after killing their mother to prevent hunters from getting harmed. These cubs once they grow may become aggressive and dangerous so, as a result, there are many young orphaned and captive sun bears living in small cages and substandard conditions with no present hope of returning to the wild.

Although the number of sun bears living in the wild is not known, it is suspected that its global population has declined by > 30% over the past 30 years (3 bear generations).

Until deforestation of Southeast Asia forests will continue this bear (and many other forms of life) will be threatened. The main cause of this destruction is for making room to palm plantation, from which will be extract the palm oil, a product used in a lot of different ways in a lot of products from shampoos to chocolate to cleaning products (also including natural and organic products).

Many well-known brands (like Colgate, Kraft, Nestlè..) use it, and often is hidden under different names like vegetal oil or stearic acid. So what can we actively do? We as consumers have the power to decide what to buy and what not, sending a clear message to these companies. All the simple decisions that we make every day can make a big difference!

For more information about the palm oil industry and and its impact you can check the next pages:

And if you want to learn more about endangered sun bear, tiger and elephant, take a bit of time to watch that:


Population trend: DECREASING


2 responses to “Bears of the world – the Sun Bear”

  1. Please avoid all elephant activities in Thailand, see here why;

    If you want to see elephants, most ethical way of doing it is to see them in wild in one of many national parks across Thailand;

  2. The tongue of the Sun bear is most impressive 😀 It is so sad what companies are doing to the rain forests – these corporates seem be totally devoid of compassion.

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