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"Tropical" Bear's
Sun, Sloth, and Spectacled

"Tropical" Bears:   Sun, Sloth and Spectacled Bears
Sun Bears:  The Worlds Smallest Bear
Poaching Problem of Sun Bear
Vital Statistics of Sun Bear
Sloth Bears
Range and Distribution of Sloth
Feeding Habits of Sloth
Spectacled Bears: The Short Faced Bear of South
General Description of Spectacled Bear
Distribution of Spectacled Bear



"Tropical" Bears
Sun, Sloth, and Spectacled
Bears are usually thought of as creatures of the Northern Hemisphere but three species range quite close to the equator.  In fact, two species, the spectacled bear and the sun bear, actually occur south of the equator.  Very little is known about the lives and habits of tropical bears, perhaps wildlife research is not a high priority for the relatively poor countries in which these bears occur.  No one doubts the importance of conservation and wildlife study, but the government of  many Third World Nations often simply have no mercy for along range resource planning let alone for wildlife research.  For this reason, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its associate, the World Wildlife Fund, have been a major financiers for conservation in the Third World, underwriting recovery programs for such critically endangered species as orangutans, pandas, tigers, elephants, and rhinos.


Sun Bears:  The Word Smallest Bears
     In the rush to save other animal superstars, the little 100 pound (45 kg) bear ha been sadly overlooked.  It seldom rates even a footnote in most wildlife studies, and all the information published on it would hardly fill two written  pages.  Yet what little data there is disturbing:  In 1978 the IUCN included the Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) on its red list of endangered species.
  Although its populations have been greatly decreased by hunting, the sun bear still exists in the forests of the Malay Peninsula, Java, Sumatra, Burma, and Thailand.  In Borneo, the Bears have been reported up to 4,900 feet (1,500 m) in the Sabah / Sarawak border region and at 7,500 feet (2,300 m) on Mount Kinabalu.
The Poaching Problem  of Sun Bears
  One of Borneo's greatest resources is its forests of giant tropical hardwoods.  To harvest this wealth, the trees must be cut down and made into lumber .  Once a region is opened up for logging and the logs have been hauled away, the remaining road systems provides easy access for poachers.  A common hunting method is to drive a pickup truck along these back roads at night while sweeping the surrounding area with a spotlight.  (Back in the United States this illegal hunting is called "jack lighting")  When the light shines on an animal, its eyes reflect a bright glow to the shooters sitting in the back of the truck.  The light also dazzles the animal momentarily just long enough for it to be blasted with a shotgun.


Vital Statistics of Sun Bear
the Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) gets its name from the yellowish crescent on its chest.  This mark varies in size from bear o bear and sometimes may not be present at all.  In some areas of their range, sun bears are known as honey bears or Malay bears.  Weighing between 60 to 143 pounds (27 to 65 kg)  this smallest member of the bear tribe grows only about 4.5 feet (17 cm) in length.  In the wild, a sun bear weighing  over 110 pounds (50 kg) is considered big.  The sun bear is covered with short, dense, black fur that at first glance seems to thick for an animal living in the warm tropics.
This sleek and compact animal's muzzle may vary from grayish white to orange color.  It has small, rather beady, eyes and small rounded ears.  The feet, tipped with long sickle shaped claws, are sometimes colored with gray and have no hair on their sole.  Its short bow legs give it an ungainly appearance when walking.  Like other bear, the sun bear often stands up on its hind legs to get a better view of a distant object or when it encounters a potential enemy.


Sloth Bears:  Energetic Denizens Southeast Asia
     Toward the end of the eighteenth century the firs pelts of the sloth bear arrived in Europe.  Shot by big game hunters in India, the skins were accompanied by notes asserting that the animals had trunk like snouts and were in the habit of hanging upside down in the branches o jungle trees  for hours on end.  They were also said to cry like a child
The "Unbearlike" Bear
the typical bear (Melursus ursinus) has a long, shaggy, unkempt, black coat, with prominent white or yellow chevron or Y on its chest.  The hair is longer and shaggier than other bears, particularly on the back of the neck and between the shoulders, which gives the sloth bear a maned appearance.  The belly and underleg hair is sparse, possibly to help cool the animal on hot days.
 Its long, dirty white or ray muzzle is equipped  with extremely protrusible lips and with nostrils that can be closed voluntarily.  The bear has no front teeth, and the bony palate is hollowed out.  These adaptations allow the bear to form an efficient vacuum tube with its lips to suck termites (its staple food) out of their galleries.  Also, the reduced ha on the muzzle may be a special adaptation for coping with termites sticky defense secretions.
The feet  have white, blunt, curved claws up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) long.  The palms and areas between the pads are somewhat bald, and the pads of the fingertips are united by hairless webs.  Sloth bears grow to be about 6 feet (1.8 m) long, and stand 3 feet (91 cm) high at the shoulder.  They have a 6 to 7 inch (16 to 18 cm) long tail.  Big males can weigh up to 300 pounds (136 kg).  Females are generally smaller.


Range and Distribution of Sloth Bears
Somewhere between 7,00 and 10,000 sloth bears are estimated to still exist in the world.  They are found in the forested areas on the island of Sri Lanka and the Indian subcontinent, northward to the base of the Himalayas, and eastward to Assam.  They are also know t n to occur in Nepalís Chitwan National Park.  Within its range, the sloth bear inhabits a wide variety of forest types, ranging from the torn forests of northern India to the wet tropical forests of the south.  Common in India two decades ago, today the sloth bear appears to be rapidly disappearing over most of its range.  Widespread land clearing and deforestation  seem to be most responsible for the bears declining numbers.
There is one bright note to this dismal picture, however.  Indiaís national effort to protect the Bengal tiger is also helping to conserve sloth bears and other rare animals that also inhabit the reserves.  In Corbett Tiger Reserve, the number of sloth bears is actually on the increase.
Feeding Habits of Sloth Bear
the sloth bears specialized snout makes it an expert termite hunter.  (Termite and ant colonies are some of the most abundant and stable food sources found on the tropics.)  To get at them the bear digs into the termites hard mound.  When the hard clylike wall finally breaks, the bears inserts its muzzle and blows violently, driving away dust and debris.  Then, with an enormous sucking breath it vacuums up the luckless termites and their larvae.  This stacato sucking and blowing can be heard up to 200 yards (182 m) away.
Their other foods include ants, berries, and the occasionally scavenger tiger kill.  Sloth bears often raid fields of cultivated sugarcane, corn (maize) or cultivated yams.  They need abundant water and are said to drink at least once a day, in the evening, during the summer.
Sloth bears have a particular liking for the fleshy flowers of the Mohwa tree (Madhuca latifolia).  In India, from late march into early May, there is great competition between bears and people for the flowers, as villagers collect large quantities of these cream colored blossoms for making and  alcoholic beverage.


Spectacled Bears:  The Short-Faced Bear of South America
     The only species of bear living in South America, spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus) are the sole survivors of a subfamily of short faced bears that ranged across North and South America during the last Ice Age.  Today they are found only in the Andes from Venezuela to Chile.


General description of Spectacled Bears
Spectacled bears get their name from the light colored rings around the eyes that sometimes look like eyeglasses.  These tawny markings vary greatly from bear to bear and sometimes extend from the cheeks to the chest.  Often the pattern is only half-circle around the eyes.  The rest of the coat is black and somewhat shaggy in appearance.
Adults weigh from 175 to 275 pounds (80 top 125 kg) and stand about 30 inches (76 cm) high at the shoulder when all fours.  Average lengths are between 4.25 and 6.25 feet (1.3 to 1.9 m).  males are larger and more robust, attaining weights up to 385 pounds (175 kg.) and lengths of over 7.25 feet (2.2 m), not including thirteen pairs of ribs one less than other bears.  It has a comparatively large skull equipped with strong teeth and powerful jaws.


Distribution of the Spectacled Bear
Within its Andean range, small populations of spectacled bears can be found from coastal desserts at 600 feet (180 m) all the way up to 13,800 feet (4,200 m) at the snow line.  In Ecuador, on the western slopes of the Andres, a few bears are still present in the protected areas of Cayambe-Coca National Park.  Conservation efforts to protect the only known travel corridor for spectacled bears between the central and eastern andean ranges has begun o receive some support.  A recently created interagency committee coordinates government actions in the historical sanctuary at Manchu Picchu, Peru.  On the eastern side of the Andes, where their habitat is lee vulnerable to colonization, the bears are reported to be more numerous.
Spectacled bears have also been  found in Venezuela, Colombia, and Bolivia.  Some researchers believe it is possible that spectacled bears still survive in some groups in a few isolated areas in Panama, Brazil, and Argentina, but this has not yet been confirmed.



by: John Froilan Reyes