Education through travel… Sun bears

Brad Frankel

Sun bears

Given that Sun bears rely solely on forest habitat and knowing that forest degradation has accounted for nearly 30% loss of Sun bear populations in Southeast asia we can very easily calculate the outcome that in another 70 years…….. you do the math. Action for successfully conserving particular species starts with education and then requires, time, collaboration, money and man power for generations thereafter. Working in the conservation field is not easy, you gain your qualification then you need field experience before anyone will even consider you for their payroll. Getting out there and participating on the right projects can not only give you that experience but it can also provide you with the right contacts for a potential career path. So if you are interested in Sun bears then check out our sun bear project in Borneo.

Todays focus is Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus)

Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus)

Sun bears can be found in Borneo, Sumatra and in the forests of mainland Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. They inhabit primarily lowland rainforest where they can forage and be relatively safe from predators. Sun bears are actually diurnal animals, foraging by day and resting by night. The females gestation period actually varies from 3-8 months depending on the individual and food availability. The cubs stay with their exceptionally protective mother for 24 months before the leave to make their own territories.

Sun bear facts

Sun bears have some really amazing adaptive behavioural traits. One of my favourites is their ability to avoid being eaten, their main predator being the tiger. The Sun bears solution is to have rolls of spare skin around their neck, this allows them, even when caught, to spin around and bite their attacker. They also have an extra long tongue (25cm) that allows them to enjoy a varied diet including, honey, eggs, termites, insects and fruits. They are believed to be the only bear to not hibernate, however the definition and animal categorisation of ‘hibernation’ is still under review.

Threats to Sun bears

The IUCN Red List lists Sun bears as vulnerable and suggests that the main threats threatening their survival are habitat loss and commercial hunting. Clear cutting for plantation development and illegal logging account for their habitat loss, this occurs mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. This loss is directly linked to the production of the main cash crop out of this area, palm oil, and forests are being cleared at a rate of 1,000km2 a year! Commercial hunting in Thailand is said to account for nearly 50% loss in Sun bear population in the last 20 years. Sun bears have been listed on Appendix I of CITES since 1979 but more recently efforts made to reduce the demand for bear parts and by setting up Bear Conservation Units BCU’s, thus blocking certain areas from poaching are proving very effective (Fredriksson et al., 2008). Don’t just read this blog, don’t just give money, if you want to conserve something then DO SOMETHING about it. Get out there and see what difference you can make.


This is our 13th blog that is geared to fit in and around your Extended Diploma or Degrees in Animal Management. Here is last weeks blog on Manta rays.

Next week on Education Through Travel we will look at Conservation International and the great work they do.

If you have any questions regarding your animal management assignments, email me on


Fredriksson, G., Steinmetz, R., Wong, S. & Garshelis, D.L. (IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group) 2008. Helarctos malayanus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

IUCN Red List, 2015.,

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