Bear, Sun

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Bear, sun

Helarctos malayanus

phylum: Chordata

class: Mammalia

order: Carnivora

family: Ursidae

status: Data deficient, IUCN

range: Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam

Description and biology

The smallest member of the bear family, the sun bear has an average head and body length of 3.5 to 4.5 feet (1 to 1.4 meters). Its shoulder height is 26.6 inches (67.5 centimeters) and its weight is between 60 and 140 pounds (27 and 64 kilograms). The animal's short tail extends only 1 to 3 inches (3 to 7 centimeters). The fur on the sun bear's body is very short and black; the fur on its muzzle is almost white. Most animals of this species have a white to yellow-orange horseshoe-shaped marking on their chests.

The sun bear's curved and pointed claws make it an excellent climber. It spends most of its day sleeping or sunning on a platform it builds in trees 7 to 20 feet (2 to 6 meters) above the ground. It uses its strong claws to open bees' nests or to pull back the bark of trees to locate the larvae of wood-boring insects. The sun bear's diet also includes termites and other insects, fruits, birds, and small mammals. Because it is so fond of honey, the sun bear is sometimes called the honey bear.

Sun bears do not hibernate, and they can mate at any time during the year. After a gestation (pregnancy) period of 95 to 240 days, a female sun bear gives birth to one or two cubs.

Habitat and current distribution

Sun bears are found scattered throughout tropical and subtropical forests in Southeast Asia.

History and conservation measures

Although biologists (people who study living organisms) are unsure of the total number of existing sun bears, they believe the population of these animals is declining. Throughout their range, the animals are killed and used for food and medicinal purposes. Korean tourists in Thailand seek out special restaurants that serve sun bear meat, believing it will enhance their health. Sun bear cubs are often captured and kept as pets.

A critical threat to sun bears is the destruction of their forest habitat to create agricultural land. A number of reserves have been set up for the animals throughout their range, but biologists do not know if these reserves provide the habitat necessary for sun bear survival.