Next door to the Orang Utan rehabilitation centre is another sanctuary for Sun Bears. Here, rescued bears can roam large areas of forest, dig for grubs, climb, forage and rest in the trees within the enclosures.
They are the second rarest bear species, after the giant panda. The sun bear population has declined by at least 30% in the last 30 years and sun bears are now classified as ‘vulnerable’, meaning that they are at high risk of extinction in the wild.
Their name comes from the pale horseshoe shape on their chests, which is said to resemble the setting or rising sun, and as no two markings are the same the staff at the centre can easily identify them.
Sun bears live in tropical lowland forests, are the only bears in South East Asia, and face three main threats:
Habitat loss – Like many species, deforestation and degradation of habitat has dramatically decreased their numbers. The main causes in Borneo are plantation development, unsustainable or illegal logging and human-caused fires. In Sumatra and Borneo, large-scale conversion of forest to oil palm or other cash crops is proceeding at a rate of thousands of square kilometres each year .
Commercial hunting – Sun bears are primarily hunted for their gall bladders (for use in Chinese folk medicine) and bear paws (as an expensive delicacy). In China and Vietnam, bile is milked from bears while they are still alive. Bears are routinely restocked as they do not live long. Killing sun bears is illegal in all of their native counties but is largely uncontrolled.
Pet trade – Sun bears are the smallest bear in the world. As such, their cubs are considered incredibly cute and there is a high demand for them as pets. The mother is killed and the orphaned cub is removed from the wild and commonly kept in small cages with inadequate care 😦 Some humans have a lot to answer for 😦