Like most bears, sun bears are generally solitary when not seeking a mate. When in breeding condition, however, mating pairs seem quite affectionate with each other, with the two bears hugging, play-fighting, and nuzzling. Little is known about mate selection or habits, especially since there is no set breeding season, but there are some researchers who believe the sun bear is monogamous. Adult pairs, possibly mates, have been observed travelling with litters of cubs, which is extremely unusual for bears. However, this has yet to be confirmed.
The sun bear, as was mentioned before, is the smallest species of bear in the world, but don’t let their small size fool you. Sun bears are known for being exceptionally aggressive, and there are stories of them attacking humans without provocation. With their powerful foreclaws, jaw muscles, and massive teeth, they are formidable animals, and are considered one of the Asian rainforest’s most dangerous animals. This ferocity is not limited to humans, either; most male bears caught in the wild show bite marks and scars on their hides, clearly from vicious fights with other bears.
What can college kids with limited resources do to help the environment?
The fact that you are asking this question makes me feel very hopeful as it shows you care. Helping the environment is not about the amount resources you have. I could give you a shopping list of behaviours you can change to decrease your impact on the planet, but what I want to tell you is find the environmental cause you are passionate about and get the best education you can so you can have voice and make a difference. Invest in your future through education. You will be able to make a difference.
There are lots of little ways we can all help the environment in our everyday lives. One of the easiest ways is becoming an informed consumer. Every time we spend a dollar we are casting a vote, from the products we buy, to the food we consume, and the transportation we use. The choices we make as a consumer can have far reaching influences, from across the globe to your friends and family. This became clear to me during my first trip to Borneo. I was confronted by vast, seemingly endless acres of oil palm plantations that were once dense primary forest. Those forests were once home to orangutans, elephants, and sun bears. It made me realized just how much palm oil I was consuming in the products I used every day. I began to eliminate those products from my home, and started writing letters to manufactures, urging them to find sustainable alternatives. Becoming an informed consumer really opens the door to understanding the influence, and impact we are having across the globe. Although it may sound cliché, it really does translate to acting locally and thinking globally.
The sun bear’s powerful claws are built for tearing into termite mounds and rotten wood in search of grubs and insects to eat. But this bear also has a sweet tooth; in Indonesian and Malay they’re also called “beruang madu”, literally meaning “honey bear”. Sun bears are known to love honey, and will fearlessly tear open bee hives to get it. They have an exceptionally long tongue, up to 25 centimetres in length, meant for lapping honey and grubs out of crevices and insect nests.
The Birth of the Fifth Sun, the Mexica (Aztec) sacred narrative which tells of the birth of our current sun. The paintings are posted in order, and follow the progress of the narrative told below.
14.1 It is said that when the earth was still dark, when there was yet no warmth, nor day, nor light, the Teteo came together at Teotihuacan to take counsel, and there they lit the Spirit Fires, great blazes set atop the twin pyramids of the sacred city. For four years they burned. “Come here, oh Teteo! Who shall carry the sun? Who shall bear it? The warming, the dawning? The burning fire? The celestial Light? Who shall leap into the Spirit Fire?” Than forth stepped Four Flint, Tecuciztecatl, Our Lord of Snails, and he cried out, “Oh Teteo! Indeed, it shall be I!” Yoaltecuhtli and Tlaloc stepped forward, “You are one who must keep the sky and the earth.” 14.2 “And yet, another is needed,” said the Teteo. “Who shall be the other?” Yet the Teteo were frightened, and none among them stepped forth. They took counsel with one another, and summoned Nanahuatzin, The Pimpled Lord, the Crippled One, and summoned him to the counsel. Tonacatecuhtli and Xiuhtecuhtli stepped forward and said to him, “You are the one who must keep the sky and the earth.” Many tears did Nanahuatzin shed, for he felt unequal to the task, he, the worthless invalid. 14.3 The Teteo Nanahuatzin and Tecuciztecatl began their fasts, their sacrifices, in preparation for the Spirit Fire, the God Oven. Tecuciztecatl prepared himself with precious things. His fasting-ropes were of quetzal feathers, and his ritual branches of cotinga plumes. His grass heart was of woven gold, his incense of the finest copal. He did not offer his own blood, his own Yollia, but instead offered maguey thorns and lancets made of coral. Resplendent he looked, shining and beautiful, as he made his sacrifices. 14.4 Nanahuatzin, the Crippled Lord, the Teotl in poverty, formed his fasting-rope of grass and paper. His ritual branches were made of green grass and green reeds, tied in three bundles, bound bundles of nine each. His bloodletting spine was of bone, well reddened with his own blood. His only incense were his scabs, twisted off and cast into the fire. For four days they fasted, for four days they drew blood and meditated their sacred actions, there upon their respective pyramids. When they had completed their days of sacrifice, they burned their ritual branches, their bloodletting instruments, in the sacred fire. They were become slaves. They were become Gods. 14.5 To Tecuciztecatl, the gathered Teteo gave him his egret headdress, his elegant attire of quetzal and jade. 14.6 But Nanahuatzin was attired only in paper, only in cloth of Maguey. They painted the Teteo in white, they chalked them, and adorned them in eagle-down feathers. 15.1 Tecuciztecatl, as the senior Lord, approached the fire first, to leap into its heart. The fire roared, it crackled, it seared his eyes. He grew faint and afraid. He hesitated. He could not bring himself to leap into the fire.Than Nanahuatzin, the Crippled Lord, seeing the terror of the other, walked forward. Bravely he walked, slowly, so as to feel its heat. And when he reached the Spirit Fire, the God Oven, he leapt into its heart and was consumed. Tecuciztecatl grew ashamed, and found his spirit, and he too leapt into the Spirit Fire, but lacking the bravery of Nanahuatzin, he fell only into its embers and ashes, where he, too, was consumed. The Jaguar and the Eagle were among the company of the Teteo, and both leapt over the Spirit Fire. They were singed, they were burned, in its tongues of flame, and thus acquired their spots and dark feathers. For their bravery they were made warriors, ever to serve the sun.
16.1 When, in this way, the two Teteo had thrown themselves into the God Oven, when they had burned to ash, the Teteo sat awaiting to learn from whence they would emerge. Long they waited, meditating in the darkness, when all at once everywhere it became red, everywhere the light of dawn, the reddening of dawn. The Teteo knelt down, facing each of the four directions, to see from whence the sun would emerge at this first dawning of the Fifth Sun. The Teteo fell into confusion; they turned in circles, they faced all directions. The traditional orations, the traditional words, did not bring clarity to the Teteo. Some thought he would emerge from Mictlán, the Place of the Dead, and faced North, to find him there. Some thought The Place of Women, and faced the West, some, The House of Thorns, and faced the South, for the light of the dawning encircled all things, and confusion reigned. Yet some of the Teteo faced the East, the Place of Light, and cried out, “Already, is he there, already, his light illuminates his Eastern Palace! Behold, he is emerging!” Those who waited there, who pointed there, were Quetzalcoátl and his nagual Xolotl. There too was Our Lord Anahuatl, the Red Tezcatlipoca, and the Mimixcoa without number. And there awaited four women; Tiacapan, Teicu, Tlacoyehua, and Xocoyotl. And as the sun rose, his light spread like the red Cochineal dye throughout the East, his dazzling brilliance was such that he could not be faced. He shone, he illuminated, and light came into this world. And afterward, Tecciztecatl, too, arose from the Place of Light, also golden and shining, impossible to behold; a second sun. 16.2 And the Teteo said; “How can this be? Shall there be two suns, who both shall follow the same road, who both shall shine in the same way? The brave Nanahuatzin and the unworthy Tecciztecatl?” And so, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, The Morning Star, snatched a rabbit from the earth and flung it in the face of Tecciztecatl. Thus, was his face wrecked and his light dimmed, and he fell into the ashes. 17.1 The Teteo declared, “No longer shall he be known as Nanahuatzin, the Pimpled Lord, the Crippled God. He is Tonatiuh, Our Lord the Sun!” And Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl, the Lord and Lady of Our Flesh, Our Sustenance, rose to his place at the center of the sky. They bathed and anointed him. They sat him in his Quechol chair. They adorned his head with the butterfly crest, the red-leather thong. 17.2 But he would not move from his place. Four days he remained at the Zenith, at the center of the sky. “Why does he not move?” asked the Teteo, and they sent the Falcon of the Obsidian Blade to ask why he was immobile in the sky. “I hunger!” replied Tonatiuh. “I need their blood, their precious color, their Yollotl, to find the strength to move across the sky. I need the blood of those who sent me to the Spirit Fire!” 17.3 When the Falcon returned to the gathered Teteo and gave them his message, they were much saddened and afraid. Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli grew angry and cried out, “I will shoot him! He must not stay immobile in the sky!” But his arrows could not reach the sun. Yet the sun, from his lofty perch, shot down his own arrows, his shafts of flame, and they burned the body of The Morning Star, and with the Nine Layers covered up his face, and transformed him into Itztli, the Teótl of the Obsidian Blade, of cold, frost, snow, and judgement. 18.1 Quetzalcoátl raised his eyes sadly to the sky, and spoke to the gods at Teotihuacan. “May he be revived. May we all die!” And the gods mournfully submitted to his will. And so with the Sacred Flint Blade he slit the throats of the gathered Gods; of Titlacahuan, and Huitzilopochtli, and the Goddesses Xochiquetzal, Yapalliicue, and Nochpalliicue. But Xolotl, the god of twins and monstrosities and who is the sprit double of Quetzalcoátl, did not want to die. He fled Quetzalcoátl and his terrible blade. He wept so that his eyes fell from their sockets. “Send me not to the blade, oh Gods! Let me not die!” 18.2 He fled, and Death quickly followed. He followed him to the fields of young corn, were Xolotl transformed himself into the young maize with two stalks in order to hide from Death. He became the Xolotl of the Field. But he was seen by the eyes of Death there among the corn, from whom nothing may be hidden, and so he ran to the Maguey field, and there he turned himself into the double maguey, the Maguey Xolotl. But there too was he seen by the eyes of Death, and so he escaped to the lake, and there turned himself into the Axolotl, the lake-salamander. But there was no more escape, and Death caught him, and Quetzalcoátl slit his throat, amid his tears and lamentations. 19.1 The blood of the Gods rose to the heavens and Tonatiuh drank the sacred strength of their Yollia, on the day Nahui Ollin, Four Movement, the sacred name and destiny of the Fifth Sun. Yet still he could not move, still he could not follow his path. 20.1 But Quetzalcoátl, who had shed the blood of the Gods, who had released the divine force of their Yollia, grew strong and straight. He ran, and blew lightly in the face of the sun, and so pushed him along his path, and than slit his own throat, that his blood and divine Yollia might make the revolutions of the heavens eternal. Thus it was that as the sun was entering into the earth again, into the open jaws of Our Mother, Tlaltecuhtli, the moon arose from the ashes into which he had fallen, and there at the crossroads met the Tzitzimime, the Star Demons, and the Coleletin, and they detained him a while, and dressed him in rags. He who would have been the sun, who would have been clothed in splendor. And thus it is that on the day Four Movement night and day came into being, and the deaths of the gods established the covenant of sacrifice with men.
Baby sun bears are born blind, hairless, and helpless, and are completely dependent on their mothers for their first three months. Their mothers will carry them in their mouths or, unusually, by cradling them in their arms while they walk on their hind legs, a behaviour seen in no other bear species. The cubs nurse from their mother for around 18 months, and will stay with her until they are two years old. Females are ready to find a mate of their own by the time they are three, and males reach sexual maturity at around four.
One of the biggest threats to the sun bear is the demand for bear bile, a substance produced by the bear’s liver and stored in the gallbladder. The bile is believed to treat everything from hemorrhoids to epilepsy, though it is particularly used to “clean” the liver, particularly after over-indulging in alcohol. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims, but bear bile still sells for unbelievable prices, often more expensive than heroin. This is the reason behind the poaching of wild sun bears, but much more horrifying is the fate of bears captured alive.
This practice affects not just sun bears, but Asiatic black bears and brown bears. These bears, known as “bile bears” or “battery bears”, are kept in cages too small for them to stand or turn around. Bile is extracted via or syringe, or else inserting a catheter or tube permanently into the animal’s gallbladder. This leaves the bear in permanent pain, and can lead to infection. In addition, the animals are often declawed and have their hind teeth removed to make them less dangerous. Veterinary studies of bears kept under these conditions have found that bile bears suffer from ulcers, sores, hair loss, bone deformities, and breathing problems, while also engaging in stress behaviours such as rocking, moaning, head-banging, and self-mutilation. There is a report of one female bile bear with a cub escaping from her cage, strangling her cub to death, then killing herself by running head-first into a wall.
While the average lifespan of a bile bear is five years, a bear caught as a cub can live in these conditions for over 20 years. Bear farming has been deemed illegal in Vietnam and South Korea, though there are still many black market operations in place. The practice is still legal in China.