IUCN Vulnerable


Sun Bear from the Edinburgh Zoo

Sun Bear from the Edinburgh Zoo. This species is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phyllum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Ursidae
  • Genus: Helarctos
  • Species: Helarctos malayanus




  • Scientific name: Helarctos malayanus.
  • Common name: Honey bear, sun bear. Named for its distinctive sun like colored chest patch.

Distribution and Habitat

  • Its range covers the countries of Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • Its habitat is greatly fragmented due to deforestation and according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species its population has declined by more 30% over the past 30 years.
  • Sun bears inhabit lowland dense tropical forests where there is plenty of food and cover.


Sun Bear Distribution Map

Sun Bear Distribution Map. Source: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 

– Extinct            Extant or resident                –  Probably extant or resident

Physical Features

  • Sun bears are the smallest of all existing bear species.
  • Males are up to 20% larger than females. Adults measure 47 to 59 in or 1.2 to 1.5 m and weight from 60 to 143 lb or 25 to 65 kg.
  • Its tail is 1.2 to 2.8 in or 3 to 7 cm long.
  • The sun bear has an exceptionally long tongue which measures 7.9 to 9.8 in or 20 to 25 cm. It helps them extract ants, termites and honey from deep cavities.
  • It has a thick black brown undercoat with lighter guard hairs and a golden colored crescent-shaped patch on the chest.
  • Sun bears have a stocky build, short muzzle, large paws and strongly curved and pointed claws.


  • They can be both nocturnal and diurnal. When their habitat is affected by human activity they are more active at night to avoid confrontation.
  • They are solitary animals and the only times they are not alone is when looking for a mate and when raising cubs. They have been seen congregating around sources of food and tolerate one another when feeding.
  • Sun bears spend their days resting under fallen logs or in their cavities or on a platform made out of vegetation up on the tree canopy. They are the most arboreal of all bear species.
  • They are very agile and are skillful climbers.
  • Because food is available throughout the year they do not need to hibernate.
  • Like all other bear species sun bears have an acute sense of smell.


  • Sun bears reach reproductive maturity between 3 and 4 years old.
  • Mating may occur at any time of the year.
  • Females build their birthing sites under fallen trees or in hollow cavities.
  • Gestation lasts from 90 to 110 days as reported in zoos. When there is delayed implantation gestation lasts an average of 214 days.
  • Litter size is 1 to 2.
  • Cubs are born hairless and blind and with a weigh of about 10oz or 280 gr. Their eyes open at around 30 days.
  • They stay with their mother for 18 months.


  • Sun bears are omnivorous.
  • They eat termites, ants, earthworms, bees, honey and fruits.
  • They prey on birds, reptiles, small mammals and eggs.

Life Expectancy

  • They can live more than 30 years in captivity.
  • In the wild it is estimated that they can live for an average of 25 years.


  • Because of their size sun bears have no known predators other than humans.
  • Cubs are more vulnerable to become prey to tigers, snakes and large birds.


  • Poaching and killing of sun bears for their body parts which are used in traditional medicine.
  • Habitat destruction and fragmentation due to deforestation, road building, oil and mining exploration.
  • The killing of bears to avoid crop and cattle destruction.

Conservation Status

  • Reliable information about populations is not available however there is a strong evidence of its declining trend.
  • Sun bear is listed under Appendix I of CITES.
  • The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists the sun bear as a vulnerable species.

Related Species

Andean Bear at Reid Park Zoo Asiatic Black Bear from the Philadelphia Zoo Black bear family Brown Bear
Bear, Andean or
Bear, Asiatic
Bear, Black Bear, Brown
Giant Panda Polar bear Sloth Bear Sun Bear from the Edinburgh Zoo
 Bear, Giant Panda Bear, Polar  Bear, Sloth Bear, Sun



References and further research

World Association of Zoos and Aquariums – Malayan sun bear

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology – Helarctos malayanus sun bear

Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems – Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus)

American Society of Mammalogist – Mammalian Species Helarctos malayanus

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – Helarctos malayanus

ITIS Report

The Animal Aging and Longevity Database – An age entry for Helarctos malayanus