Greatest bite strength and strong claws
Sun Bears are the smallest species of bear and can be found in forests of Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam as well as on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. There are a few small populations left in southern China and eastern India though their presence in these areas is diminishing rapidly. They are called Sun Bears due to the bright yellow-orange chest markings which are unique to each individual.
Sun Bears are omnivores feeding primarily on insects such as termites, ants and larvae as well as a large variety of fruits. They also have a great love for honey and their Indonesian name ‘Beruang Madu’ translates to ‘Honey Bear’. Their tongues can be up to 25cm long and they use them to extract insects and honey from crevices in trees.
Although small, Sun Bears have the greatest bite strength in proportion to their body size of all bear species and disproportionately large canines compared to skull size, this allows them to bite through the bark of hardwood trees. Their curved claws are long and sharp enough to enable them to break apart rotten logs and dig for buried foods.
Sun bears do not hibernate and have no specific breeding season, they are mostly solitary in the wild but are known to be able to live quite happily with each other in captivity. Mother bears usually only produce a single cub at a time and will care for their young for two years.
They are curious, playful and the smallest bear species on the planet. However, they are commonly misused as pets. The illegal wild animal trade is booming, and the animals often have to endure an inadequate and gruesome life in private households. In Indonesia, keeping sun bears as pets is illegal. However, some owners voluntarily hand over their animals to the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation once their cute bear cubs have grown up. Over time, the cute and playful sun bear cubs become more aggressive and the costs for their food rises. In some cases, the owners are not given a chance to hand over their bears voluntarily but are confiscated by local animal welfare authorities.
Sun bears have been taken from the wild
The animals arrive at the BOSF rescue centre more often than not in a malnourished, ill, injured or sometimes even blind condition. Veterinary doctors and animal keepers nurse the bears up and are affectionately taken care of. In the new outdoor enclosures of the BOSF rescue centre the bears are given the chance of leading a species-appropriate life for the rest of their lives.
Sun bears need plenty of space
Those bears which are saved from illegal pet keeping have spent most of their lives in cages far too small. Unfortunately, for a long time the BOSF rescue centre was not able to provide the saved bears with a species-appropriate life due to financial and logistical reasons. However, they were definitely being taken care of better. Sun bears are full of life, playful and intelligent animals. They need natural soil and grass beneath their paws as well as a forest to climb trees. In their new home, the sun bears have enough space to roam around – up to 2,48 hectares per enclosure. In these enclosures the bears can enjoy a runout. The BOS Foundation was able to provide the new animals a life in bear paradise thanks to the generous foundation funds and donations of 410.000 Swiss Francs provided by BOS Schweiz. Hereby, the construction of 10 new and generous outdoor enclosures was guaranteed.
However, a further 45.000 Swiss Francs are missing to help fund the access road to the BOSF rescue centre. Road construction in Indonesia is quite expensive due to the hilly and uneven terrain as well as the climatic conditions (rain season). Therefore, it is vitally important to build a solid road because a simple trail or track simply is not adequate enough.
In recent years, the population has become more aware of the ecological catastrophe unfolding on Borneo, particularly through regional educational work and increased media coverage. Illegal logging, mining, poaching and the increasing demand for palm oil threaten the lives of thousands of animal species. Whilst this ecological crisis is associated with the survival of orangutans, other inhabitants on the third largest island – including the sun bear – tend to go forgotten.
This is why BOS works closely with village communities near the protected areas to implement projects regarding income, health and education. BOS thus makes an important contribution to the human development of marginalised groups and to species conservation in East Kalimantan.
Raise awareness for the ecological crisis
Protect habitats – Prevent extinction of species
BOS primarily protects orangutans and their habitat. By securing the rights to large forest areas and by fighting deforestation as well as poaching, orangutans are somewhat protected. Also, countless other animal species on Borneo, such as sun bears living in protected areas of BOS, directly profit from this commitment and are thus also protected.
There are only few wild populations of sun bears left in Indonesia, Malaysia and other mainland Asian countries. The bears on Borneo are considered a subspecies. However, these animals experience the same fate as orangutans in the wild: the mothers are shot, and the young are kept as pets.
Their habitat, the rainforest, is being destroyed through logging and agriculture. Over the past 30 years the sun bear population has decreased by at least 30% which is why the bear species is classified as fragile. This means that sun bears in the wild are acutely threatened with extinction.
This severe threat of extinction can be attributed primarily to the following three factors:
Unfortunately, the size of sun bears proves to be fatal:
As the smallest bear species on the planet, especially the cubs are regarded as being cuddly and harmless which is why there is such a big demand in the illegal pet industry.
However, this means that for every cub which has been traded illegally, a protective mother will have previously been killed by poachers.
On Borneo alone over 20’000 square kilometres of rainforest are destroyed every year.
Hereby, one of the greatest diversity’s and the sun bears’ home is doomed for devastation. The continuously increasing demand for palm oil leads to monocultures taking over the pristine and diverse primary rainforest on Borneo.
In addition, controversial mining and illegal logging of giant trees leads to sun bears as well as thousands of other species losing their habitat and living space.
Even though sun bears are under international protection and killing is a punishable offence, this is hardly controlled in the sun bear's home countries.
Commercial hunting therefore continues to pose a very serious threat. Young animals are particularly in demand as bile juice donors. In traditional Chinese medicine, after the cubs’ mothers have been killed, young bears are crammed into tight cages and their gall bladders are literally tapped for years to "harvest" the coveted bile.
Under these circumstances, the bears cannot survive for a very long time which is why they are regularly replaced with new ones.