... ...

Episode 160: Sun Bears Barely Surviving

We head back to South East Asia to cover a really special species, the Sun Bear. These are the smallest of all bears and one of the most unique. Sadly, Sun Bears are suffering due to habitat loss and the horrific bear bile trade. Catch up with us this week to learn about an animal that you most likely never knew about.

Sun Bear History

The bear family can be divided into three subfamilies: the giant panda (Ailuropodinae), the spectacled bear (Tremarctinae), and the real bears (Ursinae). The family of Ursinae consists of six different species, all of which have similar external characteristics, of which the Sun Bear belongs.

Bears evolved from the myacids. Similar to other carnivores. While bears are through to have first emerged 30 million years ago, modern bears are thought to have evolved around 5 million years ago in Eurasia. It was here where Sun Bears and the other species of Ursinae migrated throughout Asia and into the Americas.

Today, Sun Bears are found India up to China, down through the rest of South East Asia and into Myanmar. There are two subspecies of Sun Bear:

Sun Bear Physiology

This week we focused on Sun Bears because they are a primary source for bear bile. Bear bile has been used for thousands of years with Chinese Medicine. While other wildlife parts, such as rhino horn, tiger bone, have no proven medicinal use, bear bile actually does. However, there are now many synthetic forms of bear bile and the horrific practices of bear bile farming need to be outlawed and shut down. More can be read about this HERE

Sun Bears are incredibly unique among the bear family. Some interesting facts include:

  • Sun Bears have a tongue that can be as long as 18 in (30 cm) that it uses to reach into crevices to get insects or honey
  • Suns Bears are the smallest subspecies of the Ursidae family.
  • Their paws are turned inwards, which allows climbing to be accomplished easier.
  • Malayan Sun Bears also have a more flattened chest than other bears, which is also a development that caters their need for climbing.
  • These bears also have power forearms/claws which also allows for easier climbing in the tropics.
  • The Sun Bear’s long tongue is also an adaption from the generic Asian Black Bears.
  • The teeth of the Sun Bear have developed to be flatter (unlike the flesh tearing molars they used to have) in order to help with the grinding down of plants.
  • Sun Bears over time have developed a thick layer of skin around their necks. This skin is used during attacks from predators, so that they can turn around and attack back even when grasped at the neck.
  • The Malayan Sun Bears are a prime example of a species that broke off from the original. The developments for climbing the trees of the tropics. The flattened teeth were a development that this subspecies created due to their large consumption of vegetation.


The population of Sun Bears is currently unknown. However, their population is decreasing and they are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. Similar to other species of animals in SE Asia, loss of habitat is a primary driver of Sun Bears heading towards extinction.


Animals Asia

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center





May 12, 2020
Scroll to top