Malayan sun bear

Latin Name
Helarctos malayanus




The smallest bear species, sun bears can reach up to five feet in length and two feet tall at the shoulder. Males are generally larger than females and can weigh up to 130 pounds. The species has a nearly all-black coat, with the exception of a brown, u-shaped marking on the chest.



The sun bear is found throughout Southeast Asia, from China through Indonesia.


Because the sun bear lives in remote rain forests, little is known about its wild status. It is believed that populations are declining due to habitat loss associated with logging and agriculture. Poaching is also an issue, as the bears’ organs are sold for traditional-medicine preparations, despite the fact that the organs have no medicinal effect.

Lincoln Park Zoo cooperatively manages Malayan sun bear populations with other institutions in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.


Sun bears favor tropical forests at low elevations. Their large, curved claws make them well-suited to climbing trees.


Sun bears are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. They consume fruit, when it’s available, and will also hunt rodents, birds and lizards. The biggest portion of their diet is bees, termites and earthworms. The sun bear’s tongue can reach up to 10 inches in length, helping it to extract insects and honey from nests and hives. The species is nocturnal—mostly active at night.

Life History

Female sun bears typically give birth to litters of one-two cubs. Offspring are blind and helpless at birth. They stay with their mothers until they're fully mature, generally a period of three years.

Special Adaptations

Sun bears have a well-developed sense of smell, which they use to locate food.

Because the species eats such a wide range of plants, it plays an important role in its ecosystem by dispersing seeds through its feces.

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