Bear Species
Sun Bear
( Helarctos malayanus )

Description, diet and behaviour

The sun bear is the smallest of the eight bear species, averaging 1.1–1.4 m in length, with adult bears weighing approximately 30–65 kg. Adult females are about 20 per cent smaller than adult males.

This species has predominately black fur, although this can vary from reddish to gray with a prominent U-shaped white, ochre, buff or orange coloured marking on the chest. As sun bears inhabit relatively warm, moist lowland tropical forests, their hair is very short in comparison to the other bear species.

Sun bears have protrusible (forward thrusting) lips, long, sickle-shaped fore claws and a very long, slender tongue that allows them to feed efficiently on insects, larvae and honey. The fore legs are bowed more than other bear species and the front feet point inward.

Very little data are available regarding lifespan of sun bears in the wild, but individuals in captivity are known to live as long as 33 years


Sun bears are well adapted for feeding and resting in trees and spend considerable time in arboreal activities.


The breeding seasons for sun bears appear to occur in September and October, but they are thought to be non-seasonal breeders. This means females are polyestrous –willing to mate more than once a year – and are able to mate for relatively short intervals ranging from two to five days.

The length of gestation (pregnancy) appears to be variable – periods of three months (95–96 days) have been recorded in captivity, but periods of 174–240 days (suggesting delayed implantation) may also occur. Sun bears produce one or two cubs per litter.


Sun bears are present throughout the lowland tropical forests of South East Asia in Myanmar, eastern Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and southern China.

Conflict with humans

Major threats to sun bear populations in South East Asia include: subsistence hunting, trade in bear parts for medicinal purposes, habitat loss and fragmentation, and persecution by humans as a result of bear raids on human food sources, primarily agricultural crops.

2008 conservation status

The sun bear is classified as ‘DD’ (data deficient) on the IUCN 2006 Red List, as adequate data on sun bear numbers and population trends are not available. However, recent studies suggest that habitat loss and the fragmentation of populations are causes of for concern for this species.

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