Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) are the world's smallest bear and also the most arboreal (tree dwelling). Listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, they are found in tropical forests of South-East Asia where they are threatened by habitat loss and hunting for traditional medicine, with the international trade in bear bile continuing to boom. Sun bears are usually nocturnal, solitary and are nervous around humans. It is unusual to see a wild sun bear but the Sumatran Ranger Project's patrol teams often find signs of bears along the forest edge outside of the protected Gunung Leuser National Park. Occasionally sun bears come onto community land in search of honey or grubs and larvae, which are often inside trees. Sun bears have incredible tongues - the longest of any bear at around 45cm! To get to these delicious treats they often break open the trunks of small trees which sometimes means destroying trees that contribute to the income of a family. Our team documents all signs of sun bears while on patrol, whether it be scratches on tree trunks (they have huge sickle shaped claws that can be over 10cm long which helps them with an arboreal nature), footprints or broken beehives, and have responded to requests for help from smallholders to help move them out of private land. SRP donates cell phones to landowners to enable them to easily access help from the rangers rather than take matters into their own hands with reprisal attacks on sun bears.
Signs usually include scratch marks on trees and footprints. Sun bears have huge claws that they use to tear open trees when eating grubs, termites and honey. They have the longest tongue of any bear which helps them extract honey and insects. Their incredibly powerful limbs help them climb trees with ease. Sun bears are classed as Vulnerable by IUCN and killing bears is illegal. They are targets for snares set both inside and outside the forest even though locals say they are targeting wild pig. A snare set for a pig will also easily ensare a sun bear. The Sumatran Ranger Project team collect data while on patrol and via the camera traps to help contribute to the knowledge of how and where sun bears are using the land around the forest near human settlements. They also remove snares that pose a threat to this incredible species. Our partners at Sumatran Sunbear Team are doing an incredible job of helping provide education and rescue for sun bears in Sumatra.