A Sun Bear Boy!

Posted at 2:08 pm December 19, 2006 by Suzanne Hall

Keepers in Sun Bear Forest at the San Diego Zoo have finally had the opportunity to handle the sun bear cub, now 86 days old (see Suzanne’s previous blog, Sun Bears from Sepilok). I am happy to report that they have determined that the cub is a male and appears very healthy. Today the cub was pulled for the third time and weighed in at 11.5 pounds (5.24 kilograms), demonstrating a robust increase from its weight last week of 11 pounds (5.02 kilograms). Staff reported that the coat is clean, the body feels solid, and there appears to be the beginning of the fleshy jowls common to sun bears.

The cub exam itself is the effort of several people working in concert. This morning, keeper Daniel’s job was to soothe and evaluate Marcella, the dam, who is able to observe her cub throughout the process. Daniel fed Marcella peanut butter and other snacks and kept her calm as other staff weighed and measured the infant. Keeper Kirstin held the cub while team area lead Lisa wrapped a measuring tape around the cub’s abdomen and neck to record girth. I recorded these measurements on a data sheet. During the exam, the cub was calm and quiet and snuggled close to Kirstin.

We were unable to handle our first Bornean sun bear cub for such exams, because Marcella was such a nervous and protective mother. This time around she is more relaxed, and is tolerating these procedures well. Each time she is progressively calmer, as is the cub. After the two bears are reunited, Marcella checks in on her offspring, licking him and vocalizing with a friendly clucking sound. After less than five minutes, she left the cub alone in the den and looked around for more to eat.

The data provided by such exams will allow us to better understand the growth and maturation of the sun bear. No data currently exists on this topic. This will provide a framework for comparing future such cubs. Since we can’t compare the growth of this cub to other Bornean cubs, we can compare these cub’s measurements to those of the three panda cubs born here. So far, this cub appears to be quite a bit heavier (by about three-quarters of a kilo) than our panda cubs of the same age.

Stay tuned for further updates from the sun bear den!

Suzanne Hall is the senior research laboratory technician for Giant Panda Conservation Unit of Applied Animal Ecology/CRES.

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9 Responses to “A Sun Bear Boy!”

  1. Margaret says:

    Thanks, Suzanne, glad to hear little Mr. Sun Bear is growing well. How big are Sun Bears when they are born? As small as pandas, or larger like other animal offspring?

    When do you anticipate naming him? It helps to know the sex to detemine a name, I guess?

    Any chance we can see some updated photos?

    Thanks to all the Sun Bear keepers for such an excellent job.

    Happy Holidays, keepers and bears!

  2. calvin says:

    Oh that’s wonderful to hear! I have 2 questions: When will the cub get a name, and will Danum or this cub ever go back to Sepilok to breed? Best of wishes to everyone and Marcella! 11 lbs! holy mackerel!

  3. Jennifer says:

    That’s interesting that mama bear is allowed to watch the cub during the exams. Is there a reason why this is done with the sun bear and not with panda cubs?

  4. Suzanne says:

    Margaret #1,

    Sun bears are not as big as pandas, on average. Marcella, for example, weighs in at about 42-44 kilos (92-97 lbs); compare that to Bai Yun, who typically weighs twice that much! And yet, the sun bear cub is larger as a proportion of the maternal weight. It’s very interesting.

    Calvin #2,

    It is unlikley that a plan to return Danum or this cub to Sabah would ever materialize. Habitat destruction in that area results in many bears without homes in the wild, and some even starve to death since their food resources are cut down or plowed under. Adding US bears to the population there would create even more of a crunch for space. Perhaps down the road, if the habitat issues are appropriately addressed, such an intermingling of populations would be more feasible.

    Jennifer #3,

    There are a few reasons for this. The panda cub exams generate a large crowd of vets and other staff, and they need more space… so they are conducted in a large room which Bai Yun has no visual access to. However, she can hear the cub if it squawks. The sun bear facility is smaller, and the scale is placed in a tunnel adjacent to Marcella’s areas, where she can see easily. It is also thought that since Marcella is a more nervous animal she might actually benefit from seeing her cub and observing that it is calm as well as quiet… and so far, this philosophy appears to be right on the money. This morning, Marcella made several trips to the door to observe the exam, then returned to her keeper for a spoonful of peanut butter between each one!

  5. Jennifer says:

    Thank you, Suzanne, for taking time to answer my question. I am glad Marcella has a chance to supervise the exams if it makes her feel better!

    Because if mama ain’t happy…

  6. Margaret says:

    Thanks Suzanne for answering all of our questions. It helps to understand how the different bear species live, and are cared for.

    Happy Holidays to all, and a big bear hug thank you for all that you do.

  7. Calvin says:

    Even though there’s no contest to name the cub, i thought of a name suggestion–Sabah

  8. Margaret in VA says:

    Any pictures of Marcella and her cub available?

  9. jim cue says:

    Dam? I thought female bears were sows.