The Malayan sun bear

the malayan sun bear needs help

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The Malayan sun bear, so named due to the golden crescent patch of fun on its chest, is the smallest among the eight species of bears found worldwide. It can weigh anywhere between 27kg to 70kg, and when standing upright is about 1 to 1.5 metres high. Even though they are considered small for bears, they have been known to tear open trees with their long, sharp claws and teeth in search of honey and leave behind shattered tree trunks. As omnivores, Sun Bears feed primarily on termites, ants, beetle larvae, bee larvae and a large variety of fruits, especially figs when available.

The Malayan Sun Bear can be found in Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia (in both Peninsular and Borneo).

Globally, the population of the Malayan Sun Bear is suspected to have dwindled by 30% since the 1980s.

The Malayan Sun Bear is one of the 12 large mammal species in Malaysia. Their omnivorous diet actually helps keep the forest healthy. By consuming a large variety of fruit species, they help to disperse seeds; they also keep termite popluations down since termites are their primary source of food. With the population of termites being controlled, this then helps tropical tree species to continue to grow and thrive. They also dig for insects such as beetles and ants in the soil, which enhances the forest's nutrient cycle through the mixing of rich and poor soil. And they help create nesting sites for animals such as hornbills and flying squirrels, by tearing open tree trunks to reach the honey inside.

Numbers declining due to:
Globally, the population of the Malayan Sun Bear is suspected to have dwindled by 30% since the 1980s. The Malayan Sun Bear has lost much of its habitat due to forest conversion for urban development, monoculture plantations (rubber and oil palm), and other development. One recent study has shown that Malaysia has the highest deforestation rate in the world, and this does not bode well for the Malayan Sun Bear with the continuous destruction of its habitat.

Sabah wildlife dept recaptures 'fugitive' sun bear, nabs owner

Sabah Wildlife Department personnel has recaptured a female sun bear which recently escaped from an illegal captivity here. Its director Augustine Tuuga said the one-year-old bear escaped from its owner's house at Kampung Pangkalan Abai. "The department was alerted by the public on Friday afternoon about the incident. "A team was despatched to locate the bear on Saturday morning and after much effort, the sun bear was finally recaptured by darting it with tranquiliser," he said in a statement, adding the totally protected species was now kept at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. Augustine added that the 37-year-old owner, who was later detained, had been keeping the sun bear in a metal cage behind his house for more than a year. The man claimed he obtained the animal from a friend in Keningau when it was still a cub. Illegal possession of the species is an offence under Section 41 of Wildlife Conservation (Amendment) Enactment 2016. The owner, he said, is likely to face charges but investigation is still ongoing. Augustine advised the public not to keep protected species as pets as they could turn aggresive if taken outside of their natural habitat.

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Aside from losing their habitat, the Malayan Sun Bear is also threatened by poaching for the illegal wildlife treade which sees this adorable animal killed for its bile, meat and bones. Back in 2011, one of WWF-Malaysia's camera-traps set in the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex photographed a three-legged Sun Bear, which was believed to have lost its foot to a snare. Subsequently between 2013 and 2014, the field team detected yet two more cases of sun bear caught in snares; one was rescued by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks but unfortunately, the other died with its foot still caught in the snare. Although poachers often target different animals, other species such as Sun Bears often fall prey to the indiscriminate snare-trap. Opportunistically or not, caught animals constantly help to fuel the illegal wildlife trade. Although there are laws to protect the Malayan Sun Bear, the war against illegal poaching of this animal is still an uphill battle. According to the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 of Peninsular Malaysia, anyone convicted of a crime relating to a sun bear (including those involving a female or juvenile animal, which carries a heavier penalty) is punishable by a fine of up to MYR 300,000 (USD 96,700) or prison term of up to 10 years, or both.

In Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam, sun bears are being poached for their gall bladder and paws. It is believed that the bile of the animal can cure diseases. Although current pharmacological studies do concur that bear bile indeed have certain medicinal properties, nevertheless more needs to be done to encourage consumers to use herbal and synthetic substitutes for bear bile as an alternative to reduce the demand from wild populations.

About the Malaysan sun bear

The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is a bear found in tropical forest habitats of Southeast Asia. It is classified as Vulnerable by IUCN as the large-scale deforestation that has occurred throughout Southeast Asia over the past three decades has dramatically reduced suitable habitat for the sun bear. The global population is thought to have declined by more than 30% over the past three bear generations. The Malayan sun bear is also known as the "honey bear", which refers to its voracious appetite for honeycombs and honey. However, "honey bear" can also refer to a kinkajou, which is an unrelated member of the Procyonidae.

Length: 120-150cm
Weight: 35-80kg

Southeast Asian tropical forests, including tropical evergreen rainforest, montane forest and swamp habitat.

Range States
Bangladesh; Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia; China; India; Indonesia; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Malaysia; Myanmar; Thailand; Viet Nam

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