Singapore, 17 May 2010 – The oldest – and possibly ‘fiercest’ – sun bear in captivity at the Singapore Zoo is now the proud grandmother of a yet to be named male baby bear. This 33-year-old matriarch named Garang, which means ‘fierce’ in Malay, and her daughter Judy welcomed the new family member in February.
These three generations of sun bears, including 8-year-old Matahari, Judy’s first offspring, are the smallest species of bears in the world. Sun bears are found primarily in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia. Though relatively diminutive in size and cuddly-looking, these animals can be aggressive in the wild, and are among the most dangerous creatures in the forest. When faced with potential enemies like tigers, leopards, or reticulated pythons, they can inflict deadly bites and use their sharp sickle-like claws to mortally wound their opponent.
However, humans pose the biggest threat to their existence – deforestation and logging have led to their habitat loss. They are also poached for their parts, e.g. fur, paws, or bile, and many young sun bears are trapped for the illegal pet trade. International laws have made any commercial trade in the bear or its body parts illegal, and they have been listed as a species ‘vulnerable’ to extinction.
Singapore Zoo, however, is doing its part to ensure the sun bear’s survival through its successful captive breeding programme, which has produced three sun bears since Garang’s arrival as a one-year-old cub in 1978. Mother and daughter duo Judy and Matahari were both born in Singapore Zoo, as is the latest three-month-old addition. The fifth sun bear at the zoo is 14-year-old male Ballu, the sire of the latest addition. Ballu arrived from Khao Kheow Zoo, Thailand in July 2008.
“Besides our ongoing breeding programme, we were also involved in overseas research and conservation projects, including a field research project in the Danum Valley region of Sabah to gather data on the ecology of the sun bear and its prospects for survival in disrupted forest habitats. Information gathered from this research has allowed the zoo to gain further insight into the sun bears’ physical and behavioural requirements,” said Mr Biswajit Guha, Director of Zoology at Singapore Zoo.
Except for females with their offspring, sun bears are solitary animals and usually give birth to only one cub. These bears spend most of the day sunbathing or sleeping in trees, with their sharp claws perfectly tailored for scaling tree trunks. Because they inhabit rainforests in a tropical climate, sun bears have the least shaggy coat among all bears, and have a prominent yellow-white or orange U-shaped marking on their chests. Being omnivores, they feed mostly on termites, ants, beetle or bee larvae, and a large variety of fruits. Honey is a favourite treat, and these sun bears will go to great lengths to look for bee’s nests up in the treetops.