06 28/06/2018

UK FIRST: Rare sun bear born at Chester Zoo

An incredibly rare sun bear cub has been born at Chester Zoo – the first of its kind in the UK.

  • Chester Zoo releases heart-warming ‘den cam’ footage of FIRST sun bear ever born in the UK
  • Sun bears are the world’s smallest bears
  • Rare species is vulnerable to extinction in the wild   
  • Parents Milli and Toni were rescued from the illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia as cubs
  • Zoo conservationists part of worldwide campaign to tackle the trade endangering species like the sun bear

 Sun bears - a highly threatened species from South East Asia – are the world’s smallest bears and keepers estimate the newborn weighed just 400 grams at birth.

The first sun bear cub ever to be born in the UK suckles from mum Milli at Chester Zoo

The cub is particularly special given the remarkable survival of its parents who were rescued from poachers in Cambodia.

Mum Milli and dad Toni were taken from the wild as young bears by illegal wildlife traders who killed their mothers and kept them as mistreated pets.

After being found in very poor condition and nursed back to health by conservationists working for the Free The Bears organisation in Cambodia, the duo were then moved to the UK. The pair initially lived at Rare Species Conservation Centre in Kent before moving to Chester Zoo in 2015 to complete their recovery.

Now, after moving into a brand new habitat in Chester, the pair have produced their first healthy cub.

Tim Rowlands, Curator of Mammals, said:

Chester Zoo was specially selected to work with Milli and Toni and continue their care following the harrowing and horrible experiences they had in their younger lives. It’s simply fantastic that we’ve been able to help them come this far and have a cub together. It’s momentous for them and, with it being a UK first breeding of this species, momentous for the zoo too.

It’s very early days and the cub is still just tiny but we’re monitoring it closely on remote cameras and mum Milli is doing everything right so far – allowing the cub to feed several times a day and being ever so attentive.

All being well, it’s now likely she’ll keep her cub tucked away in her cubbing den for up to two months before the two of them begin to venture out.

Sun bears can be found in declining populations in Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, India, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo. However, the species is now thought to be extinct in Singapore and China, where they were once found in large numbers, and is on the edge of extinction in Bangladesh.

They are listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Mike Jordan, Collections Director, added:
Sadly, sun bear numbers are rapidly declining, due to a range of factors including widespread habitat loss to make way for unsustainable palm oil plantations and the illegal wildlife trade. As well as being sold into the pet trade, the species is also exploited for its body parts, which are used in traditional Asian medicines - although there is no scientific evidence that they have medicinal value. This tragic and unnecessary combination of factors means they are now one of the world’s rarest bears.

The new cub at the zoo is therefore a significant addition to the European breeding programme for sun bears which, globally, are highly threatened.

It’s crucial that the cub helps us to raise much needed awareness of the illegal wildlife trade which is one of the greatest threats to the future of wildlife. It’s an industry worth a staggering $19 billion a year and the fourth biggest international crime after drugs, arms and
human trafficking. It’s endangering the future of species such as the sun bear and we need people to be the eyes and ears in the fight against the trade.
Chester Zoo has joined forces with the international wildlife trade monitor TRAFFIC - as well as Taronga Zoo in Australia and San Diego Zoo in the USA - to tackle the illegal wildlife trade.

Experts hope that the new worldwide campaign will inspire the public to report offences when they see or suspect them via Wildlife Witness, a free smartphone app.

Find out more about the illegal wildlife trade and download the app here.

Sun bear facts:

  • Scientific name: Helarctos malayanus
  • The new cub at Chester Zoo was born on 13/06/18  
  • Milli and Toni first arrived in the UK in October 2013
  • The pair initially lived at Rare Species Conservation Centre in Kent before moving to Chester Zoo in 2015
  • They are the first sun bears to live at Chester since 1976
  • The sun bear is the smallest of the world’s eight living species of bear
  • Sun bears get their iconic name from the yellow or orange crescent marking on their chest, which legend says resembles the rising or setting sun. The species is also known as the ‘honey bear’ due to its love for honey - which it extracts by using its famously long tongue
  • The Malay name for the tree-loving sun bear means “he who likes to sit high”
  • Sun bears use their long tongue to eat termites and ants, beetle larvae, bee larvae, honey and a large variety of fruit species, especially figs
  • They have powerful jaws that can tear open trees in search of insects to eat
  • Their short black fur helps then to keep cool in hot climates
  • They have big paws with large claws and hairless soles to help them climb

Notes to editors           

Chester Zoo

  • Chester Zoo (www.chesterzoo.org) is a registered conservation and education charity that supports projects around the world and closer to home in Cheshire. Welcoming 1.9 million visitors a year, it is the most visited zoo in the UK; home to over 21,000 animals and more than 500 different species, many of which are endangered in the wild
  • Chester Zoo is the UK’s most visited tourist attraction outside London, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA)
  • Through its wildlife conservation campaign, Act for Wildlife, the zoo is helping to save highly threatened species around the world from extinction. Find out more at www.actforwildlife.org.uk
  • @chesterzoo