Meet the world’s smallest bears
Published/Last edited or updated: 13th November, 2016
The excellent Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre at Sepilok rescues and facilitates the rehabilitation of the Malayan sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) back into the wild. Sun bears are found in the tropical lowland rainforests of Southeast Asia and are the world's smallest bears, with adults around just 120 to 150 centimetres tall and weighing in at 20 to 70 kilograms.
Sun bears are loveable. So loveable in fact that many get captured and sold as pets and once they get big… well, you know the story. That along with threats to their habitat and the trade in bear parts for “medicine” has put these adorable creatures on the vulnerable list. After the giant panda, sun bears are the second rarest bear species. Their fur is black or dark brown with a unique orange to cream marking on their breast, said to resemble a rising sun which gives them their name. They are omnivores, but especially like bees and honey and have an extremely long tongue for getting it out of sticky places (20-25 centimetres). In Malay they are known as “beruang madu”, or literally “honey bear”.
You can support the work of the centre and get to see the bears up close in their natural habitat from observation platforms at the centre. Sun bears are skilled climbers and can often be seen hanging out in the treetops. Telescopes along the platforms will give you an up-close view. Staff and volunteers are often at the platform and can identify the bears by name and tell you their, often sad, tale of how they came to be rescued. One of the bears we saw had a ring of fur missing around its middle as though it had been trapped, however this wasn’t the case—it was self-inflicted, attention-seeking behaviour.
The visitors centre has a gift shop and shows a short film. The centre has an adoption programme; no, you can’t take one home but for 300 ringgit per year you can share a bear, or for 7,200 ringgit per year you get publicly thanked. There are other ways to financially support the programme too. For a unique holiday, you can volunteer at the centre for two to four weeks. The two-week programme costs 4,450 ringgit and includes food and accommodation. For information on volunteering contact info@ApeMalaysia.com or email@example.com.Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre is right next door to the Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre, and is ideal to visit between orangutan feeding times. Cameras with lenses 500mm and above incur a fee of 1,000 ringgit and no flash photography is permitted.
To get to Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre from Sandakan, public buses pass the turnoff to Jalan Sepilok, then you will have to walk a further 2.5 kilometres. A taxi from Sandakan is about 50 ringgit one way or 100 ringgit return including waiting time.
Address: 25 km from Sandakan
T: (0895) 34491;
Coordinates (for GPS): 117º57'0.34" E, 5º51'49.38" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: Adults/children: 31.80/15.90 ringgit. Kids under 12 free.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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