The sun bear is the smallest of the world’s eight bear species (black bears, brown bears, pandas, polar bears, sloth bears, spectacled bears, moon bears and sun bears),
whose name comes from the white or yellowish crescent marking on its chest, which many people think looks like the rising or setting sun. Each bear’s crest is individual—like fingerprints.
The Malayan sun bear is also known as the “honey bear”, which refers to its voracious appetite for honeycombs and honey.
Moon Bears, also known as Asiatic black bears, are medium-sizes bears, and like all species of bears, Moon bears are inquisitive, flexible and opportunistic, adept at exploiting their mountain forest habitat. Moon bears are named after the crescent of ivory fur on their chests, but are officially known as the Asiatic black bear.
Both the sun bear and the moon bear are classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Cambodia Bear Sanctuary
The Bear Sanctuary in Cambodia was set up 17 years ago and in that time has rescued 182 bears, an average of nearly one a month. Some come from private residences, others from wildlife traffickers or even garment factories. The condition in which they find them “is extremely variable, and some can be as young as just one week old.
The bears from the Sanctuary have been:
- Rescued from restaurants where they would have been butchered and served as bear paw soup to diners
- Confiscated from hotels and restaurants where they were caged for the amusement of guests and tourists
- Seized from the black market where their gallbladders and other parts may have been used for traditional medicines or souvenirs
- Saved from poachers selling orphaned cubs as exotic pets or as status symbol
- Illegally smuggling bears into neighbouring countries for use in bear bile farms
- Donated by owners who have neglected them as pets and no longer want them
- Freed from snare traps set in the forests to capture animals
Bear Bile Farming
Most animals arriving at the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary are cubs, some of which were intercepted while being trafficked to so-called “bear farms” in neighboring Vietnam and Laos, where they are caged and their bile extracted in a painful process.
Bile bears, sometimes called battery bears, are generally moon bears and sun bears, kept in captivity to harvest their bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder.
The bears are milked regularly for their bile, which is a source of Ursodeoxycholic acid, used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat everything from gallstones to muscle aches. Excess stock is used in toothpaste and shampoo. It’s estimated that 13,000 bears are currently held captive in bear bile farms across Asia.
Bile is extracted using various painful, invasive techniques, all of which cause massive infection in the bears. This cruel practice continues despite the availability of a large number of effective and affordable herbal and synthetic alternatives.
Cruel living conditions 24 hours a day, for their lifetime
Most farmed bears are kept in tiny cages, which are sometimes so small that the bears are unable to turn around or stand on all fours. Some bears are put into cages as cubs and never released. Bears may be kept caged like this for up to 30 years. Most farmed bears are starved, dehydrated and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumours that ultimately kill them.
Why are Sun bears and Moon bears so vulnerable?
As well as the horrific business of bear bile farming, the main threat to the survival of sun bears in Borneo is forest degradation and destruction. However, sun bears also are hunted illegally for bear parts for foods and medicines (including gall bladders), to prevent damage to crops and villages, and to capture small cubs for pets.
Due to these threats, there currently are many young orphaned and captive sun bears living in small cages and substandard conditions in Borneo with no present hope of returning to the wild.
How can we help these bears?
The greatest challenge to protect, preserve and enrich the lives of bears throughout the world, is striving to bring bear bile farming to an end in Asia. A range of strategies are used, including environmental education, conservation research and strengthened law enforcement.
The primary goal of the Borneo Sun Bear project is to promote sun bear conservation by:-
(1) creating the capacity to confiscate, rehabilitate and release suitable orphaned and ex-captive bears back into the wild
(2) providing an improved long-term living environment for captive bears that cannot be released
(3) educating the public and raising awareness about this species
(4) achieving increased protection for sun bears and their habitat through ongoing research, increased knowledge and awareness, and further protection of habitat.
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