December 23, 2023 11:04 am

Sarah Pye

Which Is The Least Known Bear?

Do you know what the world's least-known bear is? There are eight bear species in the world, and if we save bear habitat from degradation and development, we will save most of the world’s wild areas?

That’s what makes bears the perfect poster children for conservation, and it’s why I write about them.

All the different sizes of the worlds bears

The Least Known Species: The Malayan Sun Bear

The least known of the bear species is the Malayan Sun Bear. It’s the smallest, the most arboreal, and (in my opinion) the cutest. Sun bears are as tall as a 10-year-old child. They are jet black with a tan muzzle and a down-turned mouth. They have a gold horseshoe shape, or ventral patch, emblazoned on their chest. Each sun bear’s patch is different, so it’s rather like their name! 

Sun bears have the most incredibly strong claws which are attached to the bones in their paws, enabling them to climb high into the rainforest canopy, away from annoying leaches and mosquitoes. It is here they swing from vines like orangutans and build nests and rest during the hottest part of the day. The sun bear also has a VERY long tongue… 30cm. They use it to lick up termites and reach into bee nests for honey.

A Sun Bear with it's long tongue out

Why Is The Sun Bear Important?

Sun bears are an incredibly important part of the rainforest ecosystem. Among other things, they spread tree seeds in their poo and, when they dig out bee nests, they leave hollow homes for birds. 

Unfortunately, sun bears are in danger. The IUCN Red List lists sun bears as 'vulnerable', but according to Dr. Wong Siew Te, who spent years studying sun bears in the jungles of Malaysia, there are significantly fewer sun bears compared to critically endangered orangutans, with whom they share the forest. 

Dr Wong Siew Te is not just one of the world’s leading sun bear scientists. He is also the founder and director of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sabah, Malaysia. I first met him one humid day in 2012. It was a day that changed my life. I asked Wong what I could do to help him save this species.  “Do what you do best!” he replied.

First, I introduced Wong to the University of the Sunshine Coast, which resulted in numerous research and student projects. In 2014, I led a team of Public Relations students to create an adoption program that raises valuable funds and helped keep BSBCC alive during COVID lockdowns. Adoption costs as little as 300RM (or $AU100) a year. That’s pretty cheap for helping save a species!

In 2016, I started writing Wong’s incredible story. Four years later, I published Saving Sun Bears, Wong's incredible story. I’m really proud if this book because it’s not a disaster story. Instead, it offers hope and evidence that one person CAN make a difference! 

How Can I Learn More About The World's Least Known Bear?

It’s an important message for all of us and, if we are to save this species, the next generation needs to get involved. So, my next book was Wildlife Wong and the Sun Bear, written for 8-12 year olds. This real-life adventure tells the story of a tiny cub called Damai who lost her mum to poachers. Someone saved her and sent her to Wong for protection. Over the years, he taught her the skills she needed to be a real bear and, in 2017 he let me help release her back into the wild.

Wildlife Wong And The Sun Bear Square
Saving Sun Bears Book Cover Small

What Can I Do To Help?

We need less apathy and more action and this award-winning story empowers kids to make a difference in their own backyard…

Please help me and Wong save this species by “doing what you do best”:

As one of my other heroes, Dr Jane Goodall, said “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, shall all be saved.”

Jane Goodall Quote
About the Author

Sarah Pye is a nature and wildlife nerd. When she’s not writing or teaching, she can be found outdoors… camping, kayaking, exploring or walking with her dog Gypsy.

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