The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), also known as the honey bear, is a bear found primarily in the tropical rainforest (the dense lowland forests) in Southeast Asia; North-East India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Southern China, Peninsular Malaysia, and the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
It is estimated that their population has decreased 30% in the last 30 years but the truth is that no accurate population count has ever been made and no one is even sure how to carry one out.
Combine this lack of scientific knowledge, with the lack of conservation effort and its ecological importance, it becomes clear that the sun bear is a neglected tropical rainforest species in Borneo.
The Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is threatened throughout its natural home range in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, from India to China to the islands of Indonesia. They help maintain a healthy forest ecosystem by dispersing seeds, keeping down insect pest numbers and ‘engineering’ trees by destroying decaying logs, creating holes in trees and termite nests.
During a 27 month field study, [researchers] learned that Malayan sun bears have large home ranges, move considerably in search of food, and use old and large trees as bedding and denning sites. Food apparently varies significantly throughout the year, and in some areas, bears may starve due to natural fluctuations in food abundance of food.
They were historically found in the forest of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Kampuchea, Vietnam, Southern China, Peninsular Malaysia, and the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. It remains the least known bear species, and one of the most neglected large mammals in the Southeast Asia.
Because there is so little that scientists really know about sun bears, it is difficult to implement conservation plans. However, in 2007, the IUCN classified the sun bear as vulnerable. Habitat loss, poaching for the illegal trade in bear parts, legal killing of “nuisance bears”, and conflicts with humans are exerting significant impacts throughout the bears’ range and threaten its survival.
Today, the sun bear exists in forests throughout Southeast Asia from northern Burma and Bangladesh, south and east across Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand, and south to Malaysia and the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Deforestation, often caused by the palm oil and rubber industries, is destroying a large portion of their range, particularly in the northern and western areas.
Little is known about the reproductive behavior of sun bears in the wild. Gestation period lasts about 95 days, but there is evidence of delayed implantation.
Sun bears are the smallest bears in the family Ursidae. They stand 70 cm at the shoulder and are 1.2 to 1.5 m from head to tail. The tail itself is 3 to 7 cm.
Sun bears are well-suited to their environment. Their short hair allows them to survive in a hotter environment. Their claws assist them in a variety of ways, including eating, climbing and self-defense.
Sun bears have short, black fur which covers most of their bodies, except for their muzzles and a unique yellow "u" shape on their chests. This yellow "u" shape is where the name "Sun bear" is derived from.