The Sun bear is the smallest and one of the rarest bear species. It is also known as the "honey bear", for its love of honeycombs and honey. Sun bears have jet-black, short, and sleek fur with some under-wool; some individuals are reddish or gray in color. Two whirls occur on the shoulders, from where the hair radiates in all directions. A crest is seen on the sides of the neck and a whorl occurs in the center of the breast patch. Always, a more or less crescent-shaped pale patch is found in the breast that varies individually in color ranging from buff, cream, or dirty white to ochreous. The legend says that Sun bears were named after this patch on their chest because it represents the rising sun.
Sun bears are found in the tropical rainforest of Southeast Asia ranging from northeastern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam to southern Yunnan Province in China, and on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia. Their current distribution in eastern Myanmar and most of Yunnan is unknown. These bears inhabit tropical evergreen forests, montane forest and may also be found in the mangrove forest.
Sun bears are solitary animals that are active both during the day and night. As they occur in tropical regions with year-round available foods, they do not hibernate. Sun bears are excellent and agile climbers. They sleep in fallen hollow logs, in standing trees with cavities, in cavities underneath fallen logs or tree roots, and in tree branches high above the ground. Sun bears are known as very fierce animals when surprised in the forest.
Sun bears are omnivores and bees, beehives, and honey are their important food items. They also feed primarily on termites, ants, beetle larvae, bee larvae and a large variety of fruit species, especially figs when available. During feeding, the Sun bear can extend its exceptionally long tongue 20-25 cm (7.9-9.8 in) to extract insects and honey.
Little is known about the mating system in Sun bears. During the time of mating, these bear show behaviors such as hugging, mock fighting, and head bobbing with its mate. They breed throughout the year. Females give birth to 1 or 2 cubs weighing about 280-325 g (9.9-11.5 oz) each after the gestation period that lasts around 95-174 days. Cubs are born blind and hairless. Initially, they are totally dependent on their mothers and suckle for about 18 months. After 1 to 3 months, the young can run, play, and forage near their mothers. They become independent at 2 years of age and reach reproductive maturity after 3-4 years.
The two major threats to Sun bears are habitat loss and commercial hunting. These threats are not evenly distributed throughout their range. In areas where deforestation is actively occurring, they are mainly threatened by the loss of forest habitat and forest degradation arising from clear-cutting for plantation development, unsustainable logging practices, illegal logging both within and outside protected areas, and forest fires. The main predator of Sun bears throughout their range by far is a man. Commercial poaching of bears for the wildlife trade is a considerable threat in most countries. Sun bears are among the three primary bear species specifically targeted for the bear bile ( a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, which is used by some in traditional Chinese medicine) trade in Southeast Asia, and are kept in bear farms in Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Sun bear total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.
Sun bears play an important role in the ecosystem, dispersing seeds and thus sustaining the environment. These bears also control insect populations that they prey on.