Animal Database

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Animal Database
Animal Database
Sun Bear
Malayan Sun Bear
At Oregon Zoo.
Common Name Honey Bear
Range Asia
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Carnivora
Family Ursidae
Genus Helarctos
Species H. malayanus
Conservation Status

The Sun bear, (Helarctos malayanus), is a bear found in tropical forest habitats of Southeast Asia. It is classified as Vulnerable by IUCN as the large-scale deforestation that has occurred throughout Southeast Asia over the past three decades has dramatically reduced suitable habitat for the sun bear. It is suspected that the global population has declined by more than 30% over the past three bear generations.

The Malayan sun bear is also known as the "honey bear", which refers to its voracious appetite for honeycombs and honey.

Sun Bears In Fiction

Baloo the Bear from the novel by Runyard Kipling and 1969 Walt Disney film The Jungle Book is probably a sun bear because of his habitat, diet, and unusually large claws.


It does not have a tail. It has a stocky body and powerful paws. It is fully black with a soft yellow collar which resembles a sun, hence the naming of the creature. It is 3-5 ft. long and weighs 44-154 lbs. Its powerful jaws can crack open nuts. Its long, powerful claws are used to break into tree trunks and fallen logs to access honey, grubs and termites. Much of the sun bear's food must be detected using its keen sense of smell, as its sight is poor.

Ecology and Behaviour[]

As sun bears occur in tropical regions with year-round available foods, they do not hibernate. Except for females with their offspring, they are usually solitary. Male sun bears are primarily diurnal, but some are active at night for short periods. Bedding sites consist mainly of fallen hollow logs, but they also rest in standing trees with cavities, in cavities underneath fallen logs or tree roots, and in tree branches high above the ground.

In captivity they exhibit social behavior, and sleep mostly during the day.


Bees, beehives, and honey are important food items of sun bears. They are omnivores, feeding primarily on termites, ants, beetle larvae, bee larvae and a large variety of fruit species, especially figs when available. Occasionally, growth shoots of certain palms and some species of flowers are consumed, but otherwise vegetative matter appears rare in the diet. In Bornean forests, fruits of Moraceae, Burseraceae and Myrtaceae make up more than 50% of the fruit diet. They are known to tear open trees with their long, sharp claws and teeth in search of wild bees and leave behind shattered tree trunks.

Sun bear scats collected in a Forest Reserve in Sabah contained mainly invertebrates such as beetles and their larvae, termites and ants, followed by fruits and vertebrates. They break open decayed wood in search of termites, beetle larvae, and earthworms, and use their claws and teeth to break the standing termite mound into a few pieces. They quickly lick and suck the contents from the exposed mound, and also hold pieces of the broken mound with their front paws, while licking the termites from the surface of the mound. They consume figs in large amounts and eat them whole. Vertebrates consumed comprise birds, eggs, reptiles, turtles, deer and several unidentified small vertebrates. Hair or bone remains are rarely found in sun bear scat.

They can crack open nuts with their powerful jaws. Much of their food must be detected using their keen sense of smell.



Malayan Sun Bear

Females are observed to mate at about 3 years of age. During time of mating, the sun bear will show behaviour like hugging, mock fighting and head bobbing with its mate.

Gestation has been reported at 95 and 174 days. Litters consist of one or two cubs weighing about 10 oz (280 g) each. Cubs are born blind and hairless. Initially, they are totally dependent on their mother, and suckle for about 18 months. After one to three months, the young can run, play and forage near their mother. They reach sexual maturity after 3–4 years, and may live up to 30 years in captivity.


Sun Bear

Sun bear at the Columbus Zoo

The Malayan sun bear is listed on CITES Appendix I since 1979. Killing of sun bears is strictly prohibited under national wildlife protection laws throughout their range. However, little enforcement of these laws occurs.

In Captivity[]

The Malayan sun bear is part of an international captive breeding program and has a Species Survival Plan under the American Zoo and Aquarium Association since late 1994. Since 1994, the European Studbook for sun bears is kept in the Cologne Zoo, Germany.

External Links[]