Malayan Sun Bear

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The sun bear lives in India, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam as well as the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Since it lives in the tropical rainforests, the Malayan sun bear is extremely adaptable, being able to adjust to the hot and wet weather of the Malaysian tropics. Its name comes from the golden crescent marking on its chest, which resembles the sun, while in Malaysian it is called “Beruang Madu”, which means honey bear, revealing the animal’s love of honey.

Features of the Malayan Sun Bear

The sun bear is a member of the Ursidae (bear) family and a very special one. Its height of 120-150 cm makes it the smallest member of the family, but do not let yourself be fooled by its small size, for it compensates by other incredible features: its tongue measures 20-25 cm in length and this helps the bear reach difficult to access places like tree cracks, from where it gets insects and its favorite, honey. It is also called “dog bear”, due to the short muzzle. However, none of these nicknames relate to its real nature: it is an extremely aggressive animal and will attack even without provocation.

The sun bear has big paws with hairless soles and long claws shaped like a sickle, which are excellent for climbing. The fur is black and short to avoid overheating, but also rough to protect from twigs, branches and rain.

They are arboreal and nocturnal beasts, meaning that they spend a lot of time in trees, where they sleep during the day on platforms they build for themselves.

The sun bear does not have very good eyesight, so it relies mainly on smelling.

Diet and Eating Habits of the Malayan Sun Bear

These small bears are omnivores, feeding on honey, fruits, insects, birds, small mammals, roots or lizards. They use their strong jaws to open hard nuts and their sharp claws to break open logs and tree trunks.

Breeding

Since the sun bear lives in tropical climate zones, it does not hibernate, being able to reproduce all year long. The mating ritual is quite a spectacle, including barking, mock fighting and a hugging-like conduct. The gestation period lasts about 95 days, after which the female gives birth to a very small, blind, hairless cub. Cubs develop quickly and after 1-2 months they are able to run together with their mothers. A sow (female sun bear) may have 1 or 2 cubs per year.

Whereas sun bears may live up to 25-28 years in captivity, the lifespan in the wilderness is not known but it can be measured by the number of the rings appearing in the teeth.

Primary Threats

Even though the Malayan sun bear has been an endangered species since 1978 and killing is prohibited by national wildlife laws, it is exposed to excessive killing for its fur, paws and gall. Bear gall is used in Chinese medicine, while the paws are favored for soup in Taiwanese restaurants.

Another threat is habitat loss. Logging and the conversion to agriculture have created paths that facilitate poaching. Since the natural sources of food for the Malayan sun bear start to disappear, they are driven to find food in settlements, where they are often killed or trapped.

Facts

  • Currency: Malaysian Ringgit approx 3MYR to 1USD
  • Language: Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese, although you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't speak English.
  • Height:4,095 meters above sea level
  • Availability: Permits are now only given to people who have accommodation at Laban Rata rest houses plus 4 permits daily for extreme climbers so booking well in advance is recommended.

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