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Did you know that we also look after sun bears, in addition to caring for and rehabilitating orangutans? Learn more about our work with the world’s most miniature and tree-dwelling bears.

The sun bear, also known as the honey bear, is one of the rarest of all the bear species. Red-listed by the IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature), sun bears face similar threats to their survival as orangutans: the illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss due to forest fires, land-use change, and illegal logging. 

As a vulnerable species threatened with extinction, sun bears in Borneo need organisations that care for those displaced and champion their cause. But unfortunately, in Kalimantan, these are limited in number and resources. So, in 1997, when the Indonesian government asked us to help with one bear, we could not say no. The plan was always to find a more suitable home for the bears, as we are experts in orangutan care. But we could never find a reliable organisation to take on these bears, and the number in our care continued to rise. 

Sun Bears face similar threats to their survival as orangutans.

Currently, we house 71 individuals in our Sun Bear Sanctuary in Samboja Lestari, East Kalimantan. Previously, we also housed sun bears at our Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Central Kalimantan. However, we decided to move all of them to Samboja Lestari, where we have unique, custom-made enclosures that account for their species-specific needs.

There are significant differences in handling sun bears compared to orangutans, particularly in veterinary care and their capability to develop the survival skills needed to return to the wild. With orangutans, our most common veterinary challenge comes in disease treatment and management, while with sun bears, our vets primarily treat wounds or injuries sustained from fights. 

We currently care for 71 bears in our Samboja Lestari Sun Bear Sanctuary.

Sun bears and orangutans are similar in that they learn survival skills from their mothers. However, unlike orangutans, sun bears are more challenging to teach without becoming overly attached to humans. Unfortunately, this makes it almost impossible to release them back into the forest. But even though the individuals we house at our Samboja Lestari facility will likely need lifelong sanctuary care, we still provide them with enrichment that helps to simulate the foraging activities they would otherwise undertake in the wild. 

According to Samboja Lestari vet Agus Irwanto, sun bears also need to be fed, given enrichment, and provided safe and secure enclosures. “At its core, we care for them in a similar way we care for orangutans because, for both, it is not only about tending to their physical needs, but also their social and psychological.”

Despite all the challenges involved, we will continue to strive for a high quality of life for the sun bears at our centre, and we will always work to provide them with the safe, forested environment they deserve.

If you would like to support our work with these amazing little bears, please consider a donation today!

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It was a usual day at the Nyaru Menteng forest school, where young orangutans were learning from...

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