Are Sun Bears Endangered?

The sun bear is considered to be vulnerable to extinction, with up to 30% of the sun bear population shrinking in the last few years.

Sun bears are hunted for gallbladders and are also vulnerable to environmental changes, which caused a shrink in their population.

Native to tropical forests of Southeast Asia, sun bears are considered to be vulnerable according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List. Their main threats are illegal hunting and deforestation as well as conflicts with humans and other animals where sun bears are threatened.

Are Sun Bears Endangered

Why Are Sun Bears Endangered?

The main reasons sun bears are endangered are: illegal hunting, environmental changes, deforestation, conflict with humans and other animals, and loss of habitat.

There are several reasons why sun bears are today considered to be vulnerable by the IUCN. Most of the factors are human-inflicted, but there are also some natural changes that are causing the decline in sun bear populations.

Here are the main reasons why sun bears are today considered to be vulnerable.

1. Illegal Hunting

The number one reason why sun bears are today considered to be vulnerable is illegal poaching. This is a major problem, especially in countries like Malaysia, China, and Bangladesh where sun bears are hunted for their gallbladders.

Bile farming has been going on for decades and even centuries and is used in traditional Asian medicine. Sun bears are hunted because of their bile, as it is thought to increase and improve traditional Asian medicine. 

However, scientists and researchers have repeatedly confirmed that sun bear gallbladders have no use in medicine and don’t provide any benefits. That’s why efforts are being made to decrease illegal hunting and find poachers that are looking to take advantage of sun bears. 

Hunting for wildlife trade has also happened to sun bears. Sun bear cubs are sometimes captured from their mothers for the pet trade, while the mother is killed and exploited for its bile. 

Overall, illegal hunting is the biggest reason why sun bears are today considered to be vulnerable.

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2. Deforestation

Deforestation is particularly harming sun bears in Borneo and Sumatra where excessive logging practices and degradation of habitat quality because of deforestation have caused a massive decline in sun bear populations.

This is one of the main reasons why sun bears tend to avoid heavily logged areas and human-populated areas. They know that this is where humans are and they’re likely to get poached in these areas, but they’re also more likely to struggle to survive in such areas because of poorer habitat quality.

Deforestation also happens because these lands are then transformed into oil palm crops and other types of crops.

3. Environmental Changes

Other environmental changes are also to blame for the decline in sun bear populations, such as:

  • Droughts (2007 drought caused by El Nino in Borneo)
  • Forest fires
  • Agriculture
  • Changes in habitat and environment that cause sun bears to relocate
  • Rarely, predation

These are also some minor factors as to why sun bears are endangered.

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How Many Sun Bears are There in the Wild?

According to some accounts, there are only around 1000 sun bear individuals left in the wild. One thing is clear, though: the population of sun bears has decreased by at least 30% in the last few years.

The numbers when it comes to how many sun bears are there in the wild differ. Some accounts say that there are only 1000 individuals left in the wild, but it’s also possible that there is more than that. Other accounts say that the numbers are even lower than 1000, but it’s not completely clear.

In all parts of the world where sun bears live, it has become clear that sun bear populations have declined rapidly in the last few decades because of the above-mentioned reasons.

How Are Sun Bears Being Protected?

Since sun bears are considered to be vulnerable, there are conservation efforts in place to save sun bears and stop the decline in population. The efforts are organized by WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), but there are also conservation organizations in several countries where sun bears live.

In some countries and areas such as Borneo, local organizations are being set up to protect sun bears and stop the decline in their populations. The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, in particular, aims to help sun bears survive and increase the population numbers and change how sun bears are treated.

The mission of these conservation efforts is to stop illegal hunting due to the bile trade, which has proven to have little to no benefits for medicine. These organizations view sun bear hunting as an unnecessary act and in many countries, illegal poachers are severely punished by the authorities.

However, in some countries, the local organizations still don’t do enough to protect sun bears despite the organized effort by the WWF to protect these vulnerable animals. In many Southeastern Asian countries, sun bears are still illegally poached and sold for their body parts or for the pet trade.

Illegal hunting is most rampant in Malaysia where sun bear protection is still not developed enough to protect these animals. There are also organized efforts to stop or at least control deforestation, but this effort is proving difficult since profit often has the advantage over animal welfare. 

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Are Sun Bears Kept in Zoos?

Sun bears are also kept in many zoos worldwide where they are also being protected, while the authorities try to actively increase the sun bear population by employing strict breeding techniques and protecting these animals.

Some of the zoos around the world that have sun bears include:

  • San Diego Zoo
  • Atlanta Zoo
  • Oakland
  • St. Louis
  • Taronga

Conservation Status Comparison with Other Bears

Type of BearIUCN Conservation StatusRead More
Grizzly BearsLeast ConcernAre Grizzly Bears Endangered?
Giant PandasVulnerableAre Giant Pandas Endangered?
Sun BearsVulnerableThis Article.
Black BearsLeast ConcernAre Black Bears Endangered?
Polar BearsVulnerableAre Polar Bears Endangered?

Go Deeper: Are Bears Endangered?


To conclude, sun bears are considered to be vulnerable according to IUCN and there are organized efforts to protect sun bear populations, particularly in Southeast Asia. The main reasons for this decline in populations include illegal hunting and deforestation. In some countries such as Malaysia, hunting is still rampant, and more needs to be done to stop it.

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