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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless credited to others.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2024







Sun Bear

Family : Ursidae
Species : Helarctos malayanus

Head-body length : 110-140 cm
Tail length : 3-7 cm
Weight : up to 27-63 kg

Two species of bear inhabit Southeast Asia - the rarer Asian Black Bear Ursus thibetanus and the somewhat more common Sun Bear Helarctos malayanus, the smallest of the world's bears. The Sun Bear, or Malayan Sun Bear, inhabits thick primary forest in the lowlands, hills and lower montane zone to around 2000 metres elevation.

The species is almost totally black, apart from a pale crescent shaped marking on the upper chest, which may be speckled with dark spots, and a pale muzzle. The fur is short and smooth, and the ears are small and rounded. The tongue is remarkably long, and the tail short.

The body is stocky and muscular, its jaws are powerful and its claws are long, curved and very sharp. Sun bears should be treated with caution if encountered : their behaviour is unpredictable and they can inflict great injury.

Like most bears, the Sun Bear has a good sense of smell, but its eyesight and hearing are considered to be poor. They feed on various plants and fruits, including figs, as well as a variety of small vertebrates and invertebrates. They use their sharp claws to rip open termite mounds and rotten logs looking for insects. Bee nests are ripped apart for the honey.

They may be active in the daytime or nighttime, either on the ground or up in large trees. They are known to construct rough platforms of twigs and branches in trees for sleeping, but are equally at home sleeping in hollow, fallen trees.

On mainland Southeast Asia the species occurs in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam (including Virachey National Park where the species has recently been confirmed by trail cameras) and Peninsular Malaysia. They also occur on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Outside the region they occur in north-eastern India, Bangladesh and parts of southern China.

In many areas this species has been decimated both by habitat loss and by the trade in bear parts used in some Asian traditional medicines.

Fig 1 : Infra-red trail camera images of a Sun Bear from Virachey National Park, Cambodia. Note the distinctive shape of the pale marking on the upper chest. Photo thanks to Greg McCann.

Fig 2 : Mixed forest and grassland habitat in Virachey National Park, Cambodia. Photo thanks to Greg McCann.

Fig 3 : Sun Bear from Peninsular Malaysia. Image use courtesy MYCAT ゥ.

Fig 4 : Sun Bear scratch marks on a tree in Taman Negara, Peninsular Malaysia.
Photo thanks to Marcus Chua.

References : M5

Links : HabitatID, Virachey National Park



Fig 1
ゥ  Greg McCann
Fig 2
ゥ  Greg McCann
Fig 3

Fig 4
ゥ  Marcus Chua