28 Jun 2018

 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 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 fast facts:

  • Scientific name: Helarctos malayanus
  • 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