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Thursidae - Helarctos malayanus Edition

It’s the final installment of the Thursidae series!

The Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) is the smallest of all bear species, and can be found in the rain forests of southeastern Asia. Its historical range included Myanmar, India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, southern China, Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo, though it has been extirpated from much of the mainland. Because of a 30% decline in population within the last three of the species’ generations, it is considered to be vulnerable by the IUCN.


Though it is the smallest bear, the Sun Bear boasts the longest tongue of all bear species. Their tongues can grow up to 10 inches (25 cm) long, and they use them to feed on insects and honey. Sun Bears have broad, flat heads that kind of give them a dog-like appearance. Adults grow up to 59 inches (1.5 meters) in body length, and weigh up to 176 pounds (80 kg). Females are slightly smaller than males. They are typically dark brown or black in color, with white crescent markings on their chests.

The diet of Sun Bears consists largely of insects, insect larvae, honeycomb, and fruit. During the times of year where multiple types of plants have fruit available, it will make up the bulk of their diet. They are omnivorous, which means that at times they will eat small mammals, reptiles, and birds. They use their incredible tongues as scoops when eating insects and larvae, and when they’re raiding hives for the honey and honeycomb. Sun Bears are mostly diurnal, but will change their active periods to occur at night when they are close to human settlements, in order to avoid contact with them.


The mating and reproductive behavior of Sun Bears has not been widely observed in the wild, but it’s likely that they are able to mate at any time of the year, because they do not hibernate. It’s not known whether pregnant females are able to delay implantation of the fertilized embryos as other bear species do, but active gestation likely takes approximately 95 days. Mothers in the wild have been observed most often with a single cub, and very rarely with two. Cubs probably stay with their mother until they reach their full growth, at approximately two years of age.


The primary threats faced by the Sun Bear at this time include loss of habitat and hunting, as their body parts are prized as ingredients in “traditional medicine.” Sun Bear meat is also consumed by the indigenous peoples in what remains of their range. Though the Sun Bear is legally protected in some of the nations in which it resides, these protections are rarely enforced. They are also under-studied, so more effective means of conservation are yet to be determined. The AZA has administered a Species Survival Plan for Sun Bears since 1994, and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center was founded by biologist Wong Siew Te in 2008.


Source for all images used in this post.

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