Creature Feature – Sun Bear

Helarctos malayanus

The sun bear ranges from northeast India, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Yunnan and Szechwan provinces of China south to Sumatra, Malaysia and Brunei. They are mainly arboreal, living in trees 6-23 feet above the ground, but they will forage for food on the ground. Their life span is around 20 years, though in captivity it may exceed 25 years.

The sun bear is named for the yellow crescent on its chest. Their height at the shoulder is 2 feet and their weight is 60-140 pounds. The sun bear is the smallest of the 7 species of bears. Like other bear species, they are omnivores. They eat a variety of foods, including insects, succulent plants, honey, and small birds and mammals.

The sun bear is currently listed as endangered. Sadly, the main threat to the sun bear is humans. In some Asian countries people try to keep them as pets, but once they are full grown they become unhandleable. The sun bear is also highly valued for medicinal uses of it’s flesh and organs by some cultures. The gall bladder is believed by some to render endurance and strength, and by others to be a cure for many medical ailments. Unregulated harvesting of sun bears and loss of habitat may jeopardize the existence of this species.

The sun bear exhibit at the zoo is designed to resemble a dry riverbed. It provides lots of spots for keepers to hide food, which encourages foraging, and lots of places for the bears to climb. Inside the log is a honey and insect feeder made from a multi-holed bowling ball. Sun bears love to dig and rip things apart to see what is inside, making them a challenge to contain. A lot of thought went into designing this exhibit so the animals wouldn’t escape..

  • Interesting Facts:
  • Don’t be fooled by it’s name! The sun bear is actually nocturnal.
  • The sun bear is about 1/3 the size of an American black bear.
  • Unlike other bear species, the sun bear doesn’t hibernate.
  • Their Malay name is “basindo nan tenggil” which means “he who likes to sit high”
  • There are less than 100 sun bears displayed in zoos worldwide.

Meet The Zoo’s Sun Bears

The Sun bears at MZG were born in Borneo and rescued as young bears.

There are very few Sun bears in American zoos.
The male we had is only 1 of 5 males of known origin in this country.
He was rescued when he was very young (perhaps his mother was killed)
He was sent to Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, hopefully to breed.

Our female is older and had been a “pet” for a period of time.
She was a handful when she arrived because of possible mistreatment.
She showed no interest in breeding.
Our female will probably return to Cleveland Zoo.

Information courtesy of

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