Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 80 – The Malayan Sun Bear


Sun Bear in captivity at the Columbus Zoo, Powell Ohio - Ryan E. Poplin

“It should not be believed that all beings exist for the sake of the existence of man. On the contrary, all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes and not for the sake of anything else”
Maimonides

What is it about bears!  You would think they would be revered on account of their size alone.  And, in the case of this bear, its name.  After all, Inti or Apu-punchau, the Inca Sun God was worshipped by so many for so long.  But, these bears have not been afforded the same courtesy.  Instead these poor creatures are persecuted beyond belief.  Just like their cousins, the Asiatic black bears, they are trapped and incarcerated for their fur, bile and gall bladders.  Traditional Chinese Medicine is claiming their body parts and the paws of the bear are sold as a delicacy in restaurants.  Their habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate and, on top of all that, the ill-informed seem to think bear cubs make good pets (after killing the mother, that is).  All-in-all, a sad indictment of man’s behaviour toward animals.

Although considered a large animal, Malayan sun bears are the smallest of all bear species, with, incidentally, the largest canines. Reaching a maximum length (males) of almost four and a half feet, they can weigh up to one hundred and forty-four pounds. Males tend to be a lot larger than females.

Sun bear in tree. Photographer credit - UcumariMalayan sun bears (or honey bears as they are sometimes known) have short, smooth, water-repellent, dark-brown to black fur, with an orangey/yellow bow-shaped mark on their chests.  The same colour of fur surrounds the muzzle and the eyes.  The skin around the neck is loose, allowing the bear to twist and bite its attacker when necessary. They have strong paws with hairless soles and long curved claws.  Their snouts are flexible and they have extraordinarily long tongues – an adaptation for gathering termites from the nests and mounds.  Sun bears have very poor eyesight, but a keen sense of smell, which helps them to detect food.  They are good climbers and can often be found resting in trees. 

Despite being the smallest of the species, sun bears can be quite aggressive, and there have been recorded unprovoked attacks.  Sun bears have been observed living together whilst raising cubs, but, usually they are solitary and the mother and cubs are the only ones to stay together. 

Living in a tropical climate, with an all-year-round supply of food, the need to hibernate does not arise.

Baby sun bear Wellington ZooThere is no specific breeding season.  The gestation period following mating is roughly ninety-six days.  One to three tiny, altricial (furless, eyes closed and  dependent upon the parent) cubs will be born.  The cubs will continue to nurse for about eighteen months. Cubs remain with their mothers until  fully grown and are able to fend for themselves.  Female bears use holes inside large, old hollow trees to birth the babies.

Habitat
Tropical evergreen rainforest including swamps and limestone/karst hills, and lower montane forest.
Where
Bangladesh, Brunei, Darussalam, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.
What they eat
Fruit (especially figs) and berries, insects, small vertebrates, eggs, honey and termites. They use their very long tongues to access the mounds and nests of termites, the hives of bees and tree holes with insects.
Threats
In most countries:  Habitat loss due to plantation development, unsustainable logging practices, illegal logging both within and outside protected areas.  Commercial poaching of bears for the wildlife trade is a huge threat.  Other reasons for killing bears include: Crop damage, capture of cubs for pets (the mother being killed in the process) and commercial hunting.
On the islands of Sumatra and Borneo:  Large-scale conversion of forest to oil palm plantations.
In Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Viet Nam:  Sun bears are commonly poached for their gall bladders and paws; the former is used as a Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the latter as an expensive delicacy.
In China and Viet Nam:  Bile is milked from commercially farmed bears;  however, although sun bears can be found on these farms, the majority of bears used in this practise are Asiatic black bears.  Bears are routinely removed from the wild to replenish stock on these small farms.
The Malayan sun bear has few natural predators.
Status: Vulnerable
The Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable (considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild).  It has been listed on CITES Appendix I since 1979.
Killing bears is illegal in all range countries.  However, little enforcement of these laws occurs.  It has to be said, the areas which need patrolling are vast, making this an overwhelming task for rangers.  But, given exploitation for body parts is expected to continue, these bears will be gone if something effective is not done soon. .
In Thailand alone, it is estimated that commercial poaching of sun bears has reduced their numbers by 50% over the last twenty years.


Related Articles

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre – Hope at Last For Borneo
Baby bear found strapped to pole in northern Ontario
This article is not about sun bears, it is about a baby bear tormented by children in Canada.  It happened in 2012.  What is noteworthy is the appalling stance the comments took towards the bears, and the unacceptable  ‘kids will be kids’  attitude conveyed by those who clearly thought this behaviour was acceptable.  No wonder so many abuse animals if this is the sort of message children are receiving in a supposedly civilised western country. Though, I very much doubt this article reflects the good Canadian people in general.

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 70 – The Asian Elephant


Asian elephant

Image: World Wide Fund for Nature

“Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man”
Arthur Schopenhauer

Asian elephant pulling log uphill  Photo by Zafer KizilkayaEveryday, more elephants are captured for illegal logging operations.  Forced to aid the destruction of their own natural habitat, they move around in chains hauling away huge trees, clearing the way for more palm oil plantations.  With their habitat gone, the free herds are compelled to move towards human settlements in search of food and shelter. They have nowhere else to go.  They have no choice other than to leave behind the remnants of their forests and head towards the villages.  Those that do flee are often on the point of starvation. Unfortunately, on the move, they are inclined to do a great deal of damage.  This has brought humans and elephants to the point of war in Asia.

Villagers are laying traps for elephants, tormenting and torturing them, and even killing them.  But, it is hard to blame them sometimes.  A moving elephant can, and does, trample crops, demolish homes and kill people.  And it is happening a lot.  But, that doesn’t mean the fault lies with the elephant either.

The blame for this appalling situation falls squarely on the shoulders of the greedy, callous and criminal plantation owners.  Those who see littleDeforestationin Sumatra other than a cash crop.  The West cannot get enough of palm oil, and there are few products that do not contain it.  And, these insatiable pillagers of the forests intend to meet the demand regardless of the absolute devastation they are causing to the irreplaceable and magnificent rainforests and the dependent inhabitants.

As most of us are aware, elephants are not small.  The average Asian adult male comes in at about five and a half tons.  They grow up to nine feet at the shoulder and can be as long as twenty-one feet from trunk to tail  (the tail being just under five feet long).  Females tend to be smaller.  The ears of the Asian elephant are much smaller than those of the African elephant and coincidentally resemble the shape of the India subcontinent.

Asian elephants at mud-holeIn Asian elephants, unlike their African cousins, only the males have tusks.  If any are found in females, they  (the ‘tushes’)  are barely visible.  Tusks are, in fact, elongated incisors which continue to grow throughout the elephant’s life. They are used for eating, digging for water, debarking trees, social interactions and as weapons.

Elephants usually mate during the rainy season.  After a gestation period of twenty-two months, a single calf will be born (twins are very rare).  The calf will weigh about two hundred and fifty pounds at birth.   When born, calves suckle through the mouth.  At this point the trunk does not have enough developed muscle to be of any use.  Several months will need to pass before it is able to gain full use of it.  The bond between mother and calf is known to be strong, but others in the herd will help out with the infant’s care.   Once males have reached adolescence, they will be pushed away from the group.   Most will become part of bachelor groups until they reach full maturity and go it alone.

Habitat
A wide variety of forests, grasslands and scrublands.
Where
Asian elephants occur in isolated populations in thirteen range States in parts of India and South-east Asia, including Sumatra and Borneo.
What they eat
Grasses, roots, fruit, and bark – and in enormous quantities.  One adult alone can get through up to 300 pounds of food in a day. They are also known to eat cultivated crops such as sugar cane and bananas.
Threats
Capture for domestic use;  this has become a major problem for some populations and numbers have been reduced significantly.  Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are also huge threats.  Poaching and conflict with humans is on the rise. 
Status: Endangered
The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.  It is also protected under Cites Appendix 1. Estimates put the population, across all range States, as being between thirty-nine and fifty thousand in the wild, with a further thirteen thousand kept as working or former-working elephants. There are obvious difficulties in collecting this sort of data, so exact figures have never been published. What is certain, is that over half the elephants occur in India.
Various agencies and organisations are working towards reducing conflict between local communities and the elephants. This includes approaches to crop protection, community-based guarding methods to safely repel the onslaught of elephants and education and promotion of elephant conservation throughout Asia.

Related links
Deforestation is Killing the Asian Elephant

Asian Elephants Are Being Smuggled Into Thailand To Tightrope Walk For Tourists
A tusk-less future for the Asian elephant

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 34 – Tonkin snub-nosed monkey


Tonkin snub-nosed monkey

Photo: Tilo Nadler

Description
The elusive Tonkin snub-nosed monkey was believed to be extinct until 1989 when a small population was found in Na Hang District in Tuyen Quang Province of Vietnam.  Later, in 2002, Fauna and Flora International discovered a further population in Ha Giang Province.

This delightful monkey is diurnal and almost exclusively arboreal; but has been known to occasionally take to the forest floor.  Sightings of these enigmatic creatures has been rare, so information is sketchy.

The basic social unit is known to be a one-male to several females ratio along with  some young . Other males form all-male groups.  Unfortunately, when groups are approached by humans they tend not to run away, which makes them easy targets for hunters.  Though the meat is considered “bad tasting” it does not stop them being killed and consumed.  They do, however, have a range of alarm and other calls, from the soft “huu chhhk” and “hoo”, to the rapid-fire “chit”, so others are warned of impending danger.

Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys are the largest of Vietnam’s primate population and have black hands and feet; black back fur and black outer sides of limbs.  The inner side of the limbs tends to be a creamy colour along with backs of legs, face and elbows.  They also have adorable, also human, pink lips and stunning blue-rimmed eyes.

Habitat
Tropical evergreen forests containing steep karst limestone hills and mountains
Where
Northern Vietnam
What they eat
Leaf stems and young leaves, unripe fruits, flowers and seeds
Threats
Aggressive  deforestation; illegal logging, cultivation for domestic use, collection of fuel-wood, the gathering of other forest products,  grazing of domestic cattle and intensive hunting.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as Critically Endangered on their IUCN Red List. The species is also listed on The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates – 2006 to 2008. **   It is thought there are less than 200 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys left on the planet.   Various agencies are working to rectify the issue of habitat destruction and hunting in Khau Ca is controlled. Not so in Quan Ba, where it still poses a threat despite Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys being protected under CITES Appendix I and Group IB Decree 32/2006 of the Vietnamese law.  Whatever the conservation tactics, at the moment the future of this unusual primate still hangs very much in the balance. 

** Titled “Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates–2006–2008”, the report compiled by 60 experts from 21 countries warns that failure to respond to the mounting threats now exacerbated by climate change will bring the first primate extinctions in more than a century. Overall, 114 of the world’s 394 primate species are classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List. [1]

“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children”
John James Audubon

Fast Fact Attack – Endangered Species 3: Borneo Pygmy Elephant


Borneo Pygmy Elephant 3Description
You could be forgiven for thinking this chunky, floppy eared, uber cute little chap is from a Disney film; but not so. He is very real. So adorable; it’s a wonder these elephants have not attracted more attention in their plight. Despite their name, Borneo pygmy elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) grow to over 9 feet in height. They are remarkably tame and are thought to be descended from domestic stock brought to Borneo by the Sultan of Sulu during the 17th century.
Habitat
Forests
Where
Northern and northeastern parts of Borneo and Sumatra
What do they eat?
One adult can eat up to 150 kg of vegetation per day, They are particularly partial to wild bananas, grasses and palms.
Threats
Man – Conversion of natural forests to commercial plantations and human settlements. Many are injured by snares set by man to trap smaller animals.
Status: Endangered
The highly individual genetics of the Borneo pygmy elephants make them a high conservation priority. There are only 1500 known to be left.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed”  Mahatma Gandhi