Do you want to know more about the world’s smallest bears? Look no further!
As a Vulnerable species that is threatened with extinction, sun bears in Borneo need organisations that care for those displaced and to champion their cause. Unfortunately, in Kalimantan, these are limited in number and resources. So, in 1997, when the Indonesian government asked for us to help with one bear, we could not say no. The plan was always to find a more suitable home for the bears, as we were experts in orangutan care, completely new to sun bears. But we were never able to find a reliable organisation to take on these bears, and the number of bears in our care continued to rise. Today, we do all we can to offer a high quality of life for the bears in our care, but we are not actively rescuing sun bears or expanding the program.
While sun bears have been recorded living up to 30 years old in captivity, their average lifespan is estimated to be around 25 years old. For wild sun bears, there is a lack of data and knowledge on exactly how long they live.
Typically, mother sun bears can give birth to one or two cubs at a time. When they are first born, they are blind and completely dependent on their mother for care and sustenance. It takes about four weeks for their eyes to open fully, but even following this they will stay with mom until they are 2-3 years old.
That is their chest mark! Just like with human fingerprints, no two chest marks are the same, so they serve as an easy way to tell individual bears apart.
The bile contained within the gallbladder has been used within traditional Chinese medicine since the 7th century, at least according to written record. Despite evidence supporting the effectiveness of synthetic bile as a substitute and the prohibition of trade in bear parts, the illegal trade and farming of sun, moon, and brown bears persists. This is due in part to the low level of legal enforcement not offsetting the incentive of large profits as the price of a single gallbladder has been recorded as high as USD 2,000.
Sun bears are notoriously difficult to rehabilitate and reintroduce to the wild. The investment, in terms of time and manpower, is incredibly high and the success rate incredibly low. For adult bears, it would be cruel and unfair to release them so instead we provide them with permanent sanctuary care. If a cub is rescued, there is a small chance it can be returned to the wild, but at present we do not have the infrastructure in place to support the process. As the IUCN currently recommends that release guidelines for sun bears be amended pending further research, we are not presently looking to expand our program beyond sanctuary.
As a forest-dependent species, much of the decline in sun bear populations is linked to deforestation, so just like with orangutans, you can support sun bears by being conscientious about your decisions as a consumer. Be sure that your favourite products are not the result of irresponsible agricultural processes which exploit local people and clear forests. Also do what you can to stop the spread of misinformation on social media regarding the use of sun bear parts and bile as medicine, which research shows can be replaced by synthetic bile [Li et al., 2016 - Substitutes for Bear Bile for the Treatment of Liver Diseases: Research Progress and Future Perspective].
Yes! Our sun bear sanctuary at Samboja Lestari is open to visitors. You can either visit us for a half-day tour of our orangutan islands and sun bear sanctuary or if you book one night or more at our Samboja Lodge, the tour is included with your room! You can read more about visiting Samboja Lestari here on our page.
In 2019, we completed the construction of 15 new forested enclosures for our sun bears.