|Scientific Name:||Helarctos malayanus (Raffles, 1821)|
Ursus malayanus Raffles, 1821
|Taxonomic Notes:||Sun Bears on Borneo (Helarctos malayanus euryspilus) are sufficiently different from those on the Asian mainland and Sumatra, representing the typical form (H. m. malayanus), as to warrant subspecific differentiation (Meijaard 2004). There was one case of a wild Asiatic Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus) - Sun Bear hybrid recorded in Cambodia (Galbreath et al. 2008).|
|Red List Category & Criteria:||Vulnerable A2cd+3cd+4cd ver 3.1|
|Assessor(s):||Scotson, L., Fredriksson, G., Augeri, D., Cheah, C., Ngoprasert, D. & Wai-Ming, W.|
|Reviewer(s):||Steinmetz, R. & Garshelis, D.L.|
|Contributor(s):||Bendixsen, T., Choudhury, A., Galbreath, G., Goodrich, J., Htun, S., Hunt, M., Islam, M.A., Long, B., Olsson, A., Singh, P., Usher, G., Vongkhamheng, C., Wong, S.T., Zathang, L. & Sasidhran, S.|
Sun Bears are declining across their range. Although lacking direct empirical estimates of population trends, country experts from the IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group made subjective estimates of rates of population loss over three generations (30 years in the past, a 30-year window overlapping the present, and 30 years into the future) based on dwindling geographic ranges, loss and degradation of habitat, and high levels of exploitation. Weighting each country’s estimate of population change by the country’s areal proportion of the geographic range yielded an overall estimated decline of ~35% for the past 30 years, and ~40% or more for time periods including the future. Thus, this species meets the criterion A threshold for Vulnerable.
|Previously published Red List assessments:|
|Range Description:||The historic range of this species (within 500 years) extended across much of Southeast Asia, from Borneo and Sumatra north to at least Yunnan Province, China. Fossil records from the Pleistocene have been found much farther north (Erdbrink 1953). Assam, in northeast India, marks the northwestern confirmed historic range limit (Wroughton 1916, Higgins 1932). Reports of Sun Bears formerly occupying the Terai of Nepal (Hodgson 1844) appear to be erroneous. In the northeast, the range extends to northeastern Vietnam (Erdbrink 1953). The southern-most range limit is Indonesia; there are no records of Sun Bears ever occurring farther east than Borneo. Records exist from the Island of Java from middle-late Pleistocene (Erdbrink 1953) but there is no evidence of occurrence there within historic times.|
In present day, Sun Bears occur patchily through much of the former range, and have been locally extirpated from many areas. This is particularly evident in Thailand, where bears are mainly limited to a patchwork of protected areas separated by expanses of agriculture (Kanchanasakha et al. 2010). The range extends westward to southern Bangladesh and northeastern India (West Garo Hills, Meghalaya), northwards to eastern Arunachal Pradesh (Chauhan 2006; Choudhury 2011; Sethy and Chauhan 2012, 2013) and northern Myanmar. The Sun Bear's range is sympatric with Asiatic Black Bears (Ursus thibetanus) across mainland Southeast Asia to about 9°N latitude (in peninsular Thailand), south of which Asiatic Black Bears do not occur. In the Sundaic region, its range extends south and eastwards to Sumatra and Borneo respectively (Steinmetz 2011).
In mainland Southeast Asia Sun Bears appear to exhibit a natural population gradient from the north to south being most abundant in the southern regions and becoming less common towards the northern edge of their range (Steinmetz 2011). A north to south gradient probably applies to the entire range as well, with population abundance lower in mainland Southeast Asia than in Sundaic Southeast Asia. This is based on higher population densities (Ngoprasert et al. 2012, Lee 2014 unpubl. data) and higher sign densities (Steinmetz et al. 2011, Fredriksson 2012) in the Sundaic region compared to the mainland. This gradient of abundance is presumed to be natural and unrelated to human exploitation as it was apparent in historical times (e.g., in India, Higgins 1932) and is also reflected by the relative frequency of fossil records in the mainland and Sundaic regions (Vos and Long 1993, Tougard 2001, Meijaard 2004). As such, Sun Bears are rare in the western and northern edges of their range in southern Bangladesh and Northeast India. There are no records of Sun Bears north of the Brahmaputra River in Assam or Arunachal Pradesh (Chauhan 2006, Islam et al. 2013, Choudhury 2011). Sun Bears are relatively less common in the northern highlands of Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (hereafter Lao PDR), compared with the southern region (Scotson 2010, 2012). Current distribution in northeastern Myanmar is uncertain due to political instability in the area but presumes to be in decline (Saw Htun, Wildlife Conservation Society, pers. comm. 2014). The northeastern range ends in eastern Vietnam, at the Red River, limited presumably by colder climates and unfavourable habitats.
Sun Bears were thought to be extirpated in Bangladesh until recent confirmed records in 2014 and 2015 (Anwarul Islam, WildTeam pers. comm. 2015). It is possible that a population in a southern Bangladesh is maintained through immigration from core areas in western Myanmar. Likewise, the existence of this species in China remains in doubt. Surveys in the most likely regions (remnant lowland natural forests) of Yunnan Province confirmed their absence in all but one small area (<600 km²) that could not be surveyed (Wen and Wang 2013). In 2016, video footage of a Sun Bear was obtained from a camera trap in this area, indicating the presence of at least one bear, <1 km from the Myanmar border (Li et al. 2017). It is unknown whether there is a transboundary population, or just a few individuals living near the border. Nevertheless, this represents the first confirmed record of the species in China in 45 years. Sun Bears most likely occurred in what is now Singapore, but were extirpated due to the widespread deforestation that occurred in the 1800s and 1900s (Corlett 1992, Brooks et al. 2003).
Native:Bangladesh; Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia; India; Indonesia; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Malaysia; Myanmar; Thailand; Viet Nam
|Range Map:||Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.|
|Population:||Regional experts reported declines of Sun Bears in eight of ten current range countries (trends in two other current range countries—Brunei and Bangladesh—are unknown). There are few reliable estimates of Sun Bear population size and few studies have quantified population trends. Previous attempts to extrapolate population size from anecdotal information on bear density derived from occasional bear sightings and sign surveys (e.g., Davies and Payne 1981, Meijaard 2001) have led to unreliable estimates (Garshelis 2002).|
A camera-based mark-recapture survey in Thailand estimated population densities of 4.3 (95% Cl 1.6-11.6) and 5.9 (95% Cl 2.3-15.4) per 100 km² in two sites within Khao Yai National Park (Ngoprasert et al. 2012). In southern Sumatra, in Harapan Rainforest, a camera-based study estimated a density of Sun Bears of 26 bears per 100 km², 4-5 times higher than density estimates from Thailand (Lee 2014, unpubl. data). The methods used to estimate density in Thailand and Sumatra differed (capture-recapture and gas-model, respectively), but if results are comparable, they suggest substantially higher density of Sun Bears in the Sundaic portion of their range than on the mainland (where in part they coexist and potentially compete with Asiatic Black Bears).
In Thailand, Sun Bears have declined in some sites, for example Khao Yai National Park where camera trap photo encounter rates declined by nearly two-thirds from 0.73 per 100 days (over the period 1999-2003) to 0.27 (2003-2007) (Lynam et al. 2003, Jenks et al. 2011). But other populations seem to be doing better, with photo encounter rates stable in Kuiburi Natonal Park and Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary (Steinmetz, unpublished data). An earlier systematic mammal status assessment study with local people in Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand, estimated that Sun Bear numbers declined by more than 40% in a 20-year period from 1984-2004 (Steinmetz et al. 2006). But improved protection and community engagement since then appears to have had a positive effect. In neighbouring Lao PDR, interviews in rural communities adjacent to bear habitat recorded widespread population declines (Scotson 2010, 2012). In west Sumatra, repeat camera trap surveys using an occupancy-based sampling framework revealed a decline in Sun Bear populations (5%/year) in response to high levels of deforestation (9%/year in the most deforested site) over 7-year period (Wong et al. 2013).
Sun Bear populations can recover in previously extirpated areas, given a nearby source population. In Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan), sign transects were used to monitor relative abundance of Sun Bears in forest affected by fires and adjacent unburned forest from 2000 to 2010. In the unburned forest, Sun Bear density remained stable. In the recently burned forest, Sun Bear sign density was close to zero post fires, but in 10 years reached 65% of the sign densities in adjacent unburned forest (Fredriksson 2012).
|Current Population Trend:||Decreasing|
|Habitat and Ecology:|
Sun Bears are a forest-dependent species, favouring interior mature and/or heterogeneously structured primary forests (Augeri 2005). There are two ecologically distinct categories of tropical forest that comprise their natural range, distinguished by differences in climate, phenology, and floristic composition: seasonal evergreen and deciduous forest in the mainland (north of the Isthmus of Kra) and aseasonal evergreen rainforest in Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo.
|Generation Length (years):||10|
|Use and Trade:||
Sun Bears are commonly poached for their gall bladders (i.e., bile) and paws; the former is used as a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the latter as an expensive delicacy. Traditionally, bear bile was used to treat a wide range of ailments and for promoting general good health and strength. Use was largely subsistence based, until around the mid 1900s, when international trade routes opened and commercial interest in bear bile began to grow. Bear bile forms a component of traditional Chinese medicine but has not commonly been part of traditional medicinal practices in Southeast Asian cultures. Thus, it is not typically used locally, but rather sold to consuming markets. Sun bears (or parts thereof) were one of the most commonly seized bear species in Asia from 2000-2011 (Burgess et al. 2014). Illegal import of Sun Bears or parts has been detected in the USA, New Zealand, UK and France, and illegal exportation from China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Lao PDR, Indonesia and the USA (Foley et al. 2011, Burgess et al. 2014).
Sun Bears are threatened primarily by deforestation and commercial hunting, which occurs to varying degrees throughout the range (Duckworth et al. 2012, Stibig et al. 2014). Killing due to human-bear conflicts is an additional threat, although less obvious in its impact.
Measures to reduce habitat loss and poaching throughout the entire Sun Bear range are key actions needed to conserve Sun Bears. In areas with the highest deforestation rates, such as Indonesia and Malaysia (two globally leading oil palm producers), immediate action should be taken to protect remaining high conservation value forests from conversion to other land-uses, eliminate unsustainable logging, and effectively manage forest fires. Additionally, new protected areas should be established and effectively managed in order to preempt land conversion (Augeri 2005, Tumbelaka and Fredriksson 2006, Wong 2006) and protect critical Sun Bear habitat. For example, in Peninsular Malaysia, Nazeri et al. (2012), using MaxEnt modelling, reported that Sun Bears favour dense tropical evergreen forest over cultivated landscapes and areas in close proximity to roads. Of habitat deemed ‘highly suitable’ only 22% is contained within protected areas. These findings suggest that the present geographical extent of protected areas in Peninsular Malaysia provide insufficient coverage of habitat crucial for conserving Sun Bears.
|Errata reason:||The original version of this assessment was published with an older version of the distribution map. This errata assessment uses the updated distribution map.|
|Citation:||Scotson, L., Fredriksson, G., Augeri, D., Cheah, C., Ngoprasert, D. & Wai-Ming, W. 2017. Helarctos malayanus (errata version published in 2018). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T9760A123798233.Downloaded on 15 July 2018.|
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