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”

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.

Tropical evergreen rainforest including swamps and limestone/karst hills, and lower montane forest.
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.
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. 74 – The Asiatic Black Bear

Asiatic Black Bear, Himalayan Black Bear

“Deliberate cruelty to our defenceless and beautiful little cousins is surely one of the meanest and most detestable vices of which a human being can be guilty”
William Ralph Inge

Adherents of Traditional Asian Medicine believe bile milked from the gall bladder of the Asiatic black bear will bring untold health benefits.  Whereas there is some foundation in this, bear bile does indeed have some medicinal value, there are many more legal alternatives, both natural and synthetic.

These abhorrent practises are no longer necessary.  And, quite frankly, the process of bear farming should never have been allowed Asiatic black bear in crush cage 3to flourish in the first place.

Bears are kept on farms in Asia in small ‘crush cages’ for, in most cases, the duration of their lifetime.  These crush cages measure between two and a half to four and a half feet by six and a half feet (coincidentally, just about the same size as the bear).  They are designed to restrict as much of the bear’s movement as possible, in order to make bile extraction easy.

A permanent hole is drilled into the abdomens and gall bladders of the bears and a crude catheter inserted to extract the bile.  Most are forced to wear ‘metal jackets’, to further restrict mobility and to hold in place a box place containing the catheter and a plastic bag to collect the bile.  These jackets are never removed.  The sheer brutality of this beggars belief.

This is the beginning of a long, drawn-out and painful death.  Before reaching the point of death, bears suffer loss of muscular control from the inability to move their arms and legs, they often chew off their own limbs in an attempt to ease the pain and escape their tormentors and cramped housing.  They develop arthritis and lose their teeth.  The gall bladders and open wounds become infected, adding to the already drawn-out, excruciating pain and physical and emotional suffering.  Many are already injured when they arrive at the farms having been severely harmed by the traps laid to capture them. Little or no medical help is given.

The United States black market works with the Asian Bear Bile Market, to sell gall bladders from American black, brown, grizzly, and polar bear populations. [1] 

Asiatic Black Bear, Himalayan Black Bear 2Asian black bears have shaggy black coats with a pale crescent-shaped mark on the chest.  They are stocky with round heads and large ears. They have a collar of longer hair around the neck.  Females can weigh up to two hundred and seventy-five pounds and males four hundred and forty pounds.  Head to tail, they measure between four and six feet.

Asiatic black bears are nocturnal in most, but not all, regions.  Some spend their days asleep in caves and trees hollows and look for food at night.  In a few areas, there are others known to be active during the day.  In the northern regions, the species hibernates, whereas further south, where it is much warmer, this in not thought to be the case, and they are presumed active all the year round.

They live in family groups, which may contain two litters of different ages at the same time.  Comically, when walking, the family will process, with the largest leading and the smallest bringing up the rear.

They are good tree and rock climbers.  They also have a curious habitat of building open nests of twigs and leaves in nut-bearing trees, to sit on whilst feeding.

Sadly, these bears are also known to be aggressive towards humans and many unprovoked attacks have been reported.  Who knows!  Perhaps word is out in the bear community about the way in which some of the human species behave around bears.

Not much is known about the breeding habits of this species in the wild.  However, it is thought the breeding season takes placeAsiatic black bear cub between June and July.  Cubs are usually born in December or January.  Litters consist of either one or two cubs. These are weaned at six months and will remain with the mother until they are two or three years old.

This is the first time I have truly struggled to write a post about any vulnerable or endangered species. Though most stories are heart-breaking, this one is almost unbearable.  Man’s callousness and cruelty to animals is far from acceptable at any time, but the treatment of these poor bears is possibly the most inhumane I have ever come across.  Prolonged and sustained torture, often lasting decades, without a single drop of compassion or remorse on the part of the captors or financial beneficiaries. And, certainly not from those who keep the demand going by mindlessly purchasing the end products in the name of better health.  There is no possible explanation for any of this abhorrent behaviour.  These people clearly lack the basic criteria required to qualify as decent human beings.  Their actions are morally degenerate.  To continue to do this year after year without any consideration for these poor innocent creatures and the unforgivable pain and suffering they are causing to them, is simply not acceptable.  There are no viable excuses.  These are living, breathing, feeling animals.  Their exploiters are wired to understand suffering, therefore cannot fail to know this is wrong.  The International community needs to give a much louder voice to this atrocious practise.  Please find it in your hearts to sign this petition, or one of the many others available on the web.
Stop Torturing Bears: End Bear Bile Farming In China

Forested hill and mountain areas and tropical forests below alpine levels.
Widespread throughout southern Asia;  including Myanmar and Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the  Russian Federation, north-eastern China, Thailand and the Japanese islands of Honshu and Shikoku. 

What they eat
Vegetation: shoots, forbs and leaves.  Berries, insects and shrub-borne fruits. They will also eat meat, either killed or scavenged.

Habitat loss due to illegal logging, encroachment of human settlements, road networks, and hydro-power stations are all significant threats.  But, the most inhumane threats to the Asiatic black bear are those of bile extraction, trade in gall bladders, paws and skins (Traditional Asian Medicine), and capture and resale for bear-baiting.  Bear baiting was declared illegal in 2001, but it still continues.  In most counties the bear inhabits, bear bile farming is also illegal. However, the bulk of officials turn a blind eye to these atrocities.  In Cambodia, bear-paw soup is relished as a delicacy.
Status: Vulnerable
The Asiatic black bear  (Ursus thibetanus)  is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Vulnerable.  This means high risk of endangerment in the wild.
Chinese officials had first pledged to reduce the number of captive bears to 1,500 from 7,000.  This pledge was not honoured and currently there are thought to be at least twenty thousand bears held captive on almost one hundred domestic bear farms.  This excessively cruel practise needs to be stopped and pressure brought to bear upon the appropriate morally bankrupt authorities to uphold their pledges.  The full force of International law needs to be enacted to its limits, lest this vile treatment of these poor animals continues indefinitely.

Warning:  The articles listed below all contain graphic and upsetting material.  There is, however, a very heart-warming and moving video on the first link – very well worth watching.

Related Articles
Oliver The Broken Bear, Free After 30 Years in a Bear Bile Farm in China 
Asian bear farming: breaking the cycle of exploitation
Folk Remedy Extracted From Captive Bears Stirs Furore in China
Mother Bear Kills Cub and Herself on Chinese Bile Farm
A Day in the Life of a Farmed Bear in China Through a Bear’s Eyes
Bear bile extraction techniques