Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) are native to Asia, and are one of only eight species of bears existent in the world, according to (I find that surprising: only eight species of bears. I thought there'd be more, somehow.) They are the smallest of all the bears, about half the size of the American black bear, so maybe 1.2 m/4 ft in length and 65 kg/145 lb in weight. They once enjoyed a habitat that ranged from Indonesia to India, but as with all these poor beasts, deforestation is troubling them, and they are thought to be extinct in India and Bangladesh and threatened in the rest of Asia. (spiregrain says now at "high risk of extinction", poor things.)

The only ones I've ever seen are in the San Diego Zoo, where they have a new exhibit area so large that it can be difficult to catch a glimpse of one. I have managed to spy them, though; they look just like small bears, and have brown hair, a yellow blaze at the neck, yellow muzzle, and wicked huge claws. They are arboreal: they use those claws to climb trees, where they can nap and sun bathe. They are nocturnal, sleeping in the day and becoming active at night.

That sun bear website informs me that they are pretty omnivorous, too, eating fruit, small rodents, lizards, birds, ants, termites, earthworms, insects, honey - and the hearts of cultivated coconut palm trees, which puts them at risk of being shot by orchard owners. Unlike North American bears, sun bears don't hibernate, and why should they, when they can find this good stuff all year round?

Sun bears are really cute, but like all wild animals, especially ones bigger than your kids, they are not recommended as pets. However Thomas Stamford Raffles and his kids apparently raised one from a cub, and it used to join them at the dinner table and dine on mangoes and champagne. Now that's living!

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