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Text by Chiew Lin May
Photo by Gloria Ganang and Chiew Lin May
Climbing is a skill most often associated with primates, but sun bears are also arboreal. They often climb trees in order to forage for food, protect themselves from predators or to rest and sleep on the branches. Wong Siew Te, our BSBCC's CEO and Founder refers to sun bears as "forest engineers" because sun bears can climb trees and dig into beehives at the top of the canopy to get honey. The empty and abandoned beehive then becomes an important new habitat site for other animals such as hornbills.
A 8 months old sun bear cub, Damai has explore the forest and is very curious of the many new and exciting things that surround her. She is a very good at climbing trees. Every time we walk her in the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve Sabah, she practices how to climb trees or liana (long-stemmed, woody vines). When in the tree she spends her time digging in search of insects and playing or resting in the tree anopy, just like a wild sun bear would ! Once she started climbing the trees, she will keep climb higher up of the tree and did not bother us. Now Damai can climb more than 5 meters high !!
You may wonder what is it that makes Damai such a good climber? Many of the sun bears features are adapted for a tree - dwelling lifestyle. She has extremely long, sharp and curved claws that are perfectly adapted for climbing trees. Inside the sun bears claw have a piece of bone that gives strength to the sun bear when climbing. Her claws help her to get a grip on the tree bark and she uses her powerful claws, limbs and padded feet to go up tree. She can also climb down from tall trees supported by her claws. As she climbs up and down the trees, her muscles continue to grow stronger!! Thus, the presence of a sun bear can be detected by their characteristic claw marks on the bark of trees. The sun bears small body size and their ability to rotate their front limbs just like a primate also assists them to climb. Amazing, indeed!