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I always consider myself very lucky to be able to study the sun bear, the least known bear in the world. Over years of tracking down radio-collared sun bears in the rainforest of Borneo, I managed to witness some bazaar behaviors of this illusive mammal in the natural surroundings. One of these "holy cow!" behaviors was the tree-climbing skill of sun bears, which made me believe they are the most arboreal bears in the world. With their small body size as a bear species, black color pelt and agile slender arms, they look a lot like chimpanzee than any bear species to me. They are equipped with the best tree climbing tool, not with fingers like the chimpanzee and other primates, but four sets of curved and long claws, each control by exceptionally strong digit muscle. The claws clam in and dig deep in the tree bark, they simply "walk" up on the tall tropical rainforest trees like lumberjack climbing a tree with their spike shoes.
Sun bear has all the reasons to be an arboreal mammal. First, a big portion of their food is found on top of a tree: fruits and invertebrates. Fruits are important for sun bear because they are available in large quantity, but finding fruiting trees are not easy. Beside fruits, invertebrates such as bee hives with yummy honey and larvae are nutritious food items to boost up body condition. Some species of bees build their hives inside tree cavities high above the ground for double protections. However, this will not deter a sun bear from breaking into the bee hives because sun bear climb really well, equipped with strong claws and canines to break into tree cavities, and sun bear's determination to feed on honey as food is not easy to find in the forest. There is no better way to illustrate how much sun bears love honey other than showing these photos taken by Wineke Schoo in Danum Valley, the forest where I studied sun bears for six years in Borneo.
The bigger black dot was a mother sun bear climbing up a huge tree, followed by a little black dot, her little cub. At this point, the mother bear already found the beehive and starting to break into hive. Little one followed.
Wineke managed to get some zoo-in photos with her spotting scope. I know what you are trying to say, so am I! Thanks Wineke for sharing these photos. This is a lifetime experience to witness such amazing event taking place in our own planet!
Now you know why sun bears are also known as honey bear (beruang madu) in local Malay language, simply because they love honey!
Photos credit: Wineke Schoo
~to be continue~