Malayan Sun Bear

October 1, 2017

Barney needs a pedicure. Or does he? The most frequent comments about Barney, the Pueblo Zoo's resident Malayan sun bear, are about his impressive claws.

Fashionistas may want to get their hands on those long, long nails, but they actually serve several purposes.

 

Sun bears' long sharp nails are curved and their legs are turned inward, which makes the sun bear very well adapted to climbing trees. Their feet are exceptionally large in proportion to the rest of their body, which help them break apart dead wood to find insects to eat. They use their claws and their exceptionally long tongue to reach their favorite dinner -- insects and grubs.

Recently, Barney's zoo home got a makeover, thanks to a donation from the Pueblo Humane Society and the hard work of an Xcel Energy volunteer crew.

 

New wooden structures, designed by zookeeper Gina Gley, allow Barney to show off his climbing skills. While he still loves to sunbathe on his original favorite perch, he is much more active exploring his new jungle gym -- even if he is still a bit afraid to go up on the catwalk.

 

To simulate the natural process of hunting for dinner, zookeepers will hide food in a Boomer ball. Both amusing to watch and enriching for Barney's natural instincts, he will roll the ball around until all the biscuits fall on his tummy, and then he gobbles them all up.

 

In the zoo setting, these activities and equipment are called "enrichment." This is a very important part of the care of zoo animals to keep them sharp and healthy, both physically and mentally.

 

Barney is not the only sun bear that has lived in Pueblo. Many longtime zoo visitors will remember Solar Sue, who used to live in the current red panda exhibit. Barney and Sue lived together for a while and got along well.

 

After Sue, came Honey Bear. Many visitors may not have realized that there were two bears living at the zoo because Barney and Honey alternated going on public exhibit as they did not do so well sharing. Honey passed away earlier this spring.

 

In November, Pueblo Zoo will welcome Jody, a sun bear from Oregon Zoo, which is undergoing some renovations. Both Jody and Barney are up there in years -- 31 and 28 years old respectively. Time will tell if Jody and Barney will hit it off and spend the rest of their retirement years together, sharing this newly upgraded space.

 

JUST THE FACTS

 

Scientific name: Helarctos malayanus

Common name: Malayan sun bear

 

Description: The sun bear is the smallest of the eight living bear species. They are usually 4 to 5 feet in length and are about 2.5 feet in height. Male sun bears, which are slightly larger than females, weigh no more than 150 pounds.

 

The sun bear has sleek, short fur which is usually black, but can range from reddish to brown in color. Every sun bear has a distinct yellow, orange or white patch on its chest, which gives rise to their name.

Having exceptionally large feet for their size, sun bears are excellent climbers and thought to be great at digging for insects as well. The sun bear has the longest tongue of all the bears (8 to 10 inches in length), which they use to get insects and honey from trees.

 

Diet: Opportunistic omnivores, sun bears will eat a variety of insects, larvae, honey and a large array of fruits. They will commonly eat figs as well, depending on the season and availability.

 

Range: The range of sun bears is not well documented; however, they have been found throughout Southeast Asia from the eastern edge of India and northern Burma to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, and south to Peninsular Malaysia and the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

 

Habitat: The sun bear inhabits dense Southeast Asian tropical forests, including tropical evergreen rainforest, montane forest and swamp habitat. They have been found up to 2000 feet above sea level.

Reproduction and rearing: Not much is known regarding sun bear reproduction and cub rearing in the wild. After a gestation of about 95 days, a female is usually seen with one cub; twins are rare. The young are born naked and helpless in dense or hollow trees. It is thought that cubs stay with the mother until they are fully grown, approximately two years.

 

Lifespan: up to 25 years

 

Threats: The sun bear is currently listed as vulnerable, primarily due to deforestation and poaching. They are hunted for their fur, and mothers are often killed so their cubs can be raised as pets. Bears are also poached for their gall bladders and bile for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Due to their reclusive nature, it is very difficult to assess conservation status.

 

References: nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/s/sun-bear; arkive.org/malayan-sun-bear/helarctos-malayanus/#text=Facts

 

 

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