Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Sun Bears without the sun (and warmth)

We had a talk on Malayan sun bears by Mr. Wong Siew Te on Monday (18 June 2007) afternoon. Mr. Wong touched on the ecology and behaviour of sun bears through his picturesque presentation and created awareness to the threats faced by these cuddly forest bears in the later part of the talk. And finally, it is on the conservation of these bears.

Sun bear and its unique chest marking.
(Adapted from:

Sun bear is the smallest and least known bear in the world. It is unique as its chest bears a patch of yellow furs which no two bears have the same patch; it is akin to our fingerprint. Figs are the main food source for these bears though they do set their claws on termite nests too. Apparently, these bears do also have preference for smelly, rotting chicken innards. (Mr. Wong used them to lure the bears to the traps he set up for his research)

During the period from 1997 to 1999, Sun bears were reduced to skin and bones. There was a massive reduction in the production of figs due to El Nino. Hence, famine resulted. Moreover, haze generated from clearing forest land for agriculture had drastic effects on the main pollinators of the fig tree – fig wasps. The fig wasps’ respiratory system gone hay wire and they died. Without these pollinators, it is even more unlikely that figs flowers will fruit. Basically, the sun bears starved; orang utans survived as it got plenty of alternative food source. (Though Mr. Wong doubted they will survive if the famine persisted for a longer period of time).

Bear #120 and its loose skin as a result from starvation.
(Adapted from Mr Wong Siew Te's thesis

Though natural disasters do threaten the livelihood of these bears, it is largely humans’ inconsiderate and selfish desires that eventually drive these bears to desperation. Besides the famine, other human activities which cause the declination in the sun bear population include harvesting the bear’s gallbladder for medicinal uses, keeping the cubs as pets (cause they are extremely cute, and human likes cute stuff), and extracting the bear’s canines to make accessories.

Cuddly Bear's a victim.
(Adapted from:

Poor sun bears. It seemed that their lives and future are not that bright afterall. If only people could put in more effort into conservation (for the bears as well as for the environment).

More blogs on Mr Wong Siew Te's talk on sun bears:
Otterman speaks
The Annotated Budak
Raffles Museum news


pinto said...

Hi Vac, thanks for that post! It's interesting how living things are connected.

The Pasir Panjang guides usually relate the story of the White-leaved fig (Ficus grossularioides) and its associated (and specific) pollinator fig wasp.

I'll remember the Sun Bears the next time I talk about the fig tree.

Oh yes, I think you meant threat not treat!

vac said...

Thanks for pointing out that spelling error; totally missed it! =p

Yup, i do agree that there's an amazing r/s between fig wasp, fig, and sun bear. Nature's really wonderful, isn't it!

Ruo Yu said...

Found a site with extensive information on El NiƱo.

The sun bear's so cute!

Sivasothi said...

Next time we have lunch together, you two can educate me about El Nino is!

Good job with the links too. I meant to introduce this to Pasir Panjang Guides and Kenneth has already read this. See how useful the blog is?!

Nice job.

oceanskies79 said...

Hi, I read that you are starting to blog more? I like the unique chest marking of the sunbear. :)