World Wildlife Day 2023: Why are sun bears important?

Wildlife - "Sun bear in a zoo tree" by Doug Greenberg is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Sun bears are a globally threatened species that rely on the tropical forests of southeast Asia. Their numbers have declined throughout their range due to high deforestation rates and hunting and trade in their body parts. These losses have wider consequences for the health of the forests they live in since sun bears eat fruit and are important seed dispersers. 

As the bears move around the forest, they leave behind seeds of the fruits they have eaten in handy piles of fertiliser, their faeces! This means those seeds have immediate access to lots of nutrients to allow them to grow; you can sometimes find the seeds with their first leaves poking through the bear poo! This relationship between bears and trees helps spread seeds throughout the forest supporting the natural regeneration of the forest. 

So, focusing conservation efforts on sun bears has a positive effect on the condition of the forests they live in and restoring those forests impacted by human disturbance.

  • Lee, D.C., Powell, V.J., & Lindsell, J.A. (2019). Understanding landscape and plot-scale habitat utilisation by Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) in degraded lowland forest. Acta Oecologica 96: 1-9.

Dr David Lee, Director of the Earth, Ecology and Environment Research and Innovation GroupDr David Lee, Director of the  Earth, Ecology and Environment Research and Innovation Group at the University of South Wales, is a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist with academic and research interests that include the application of biodiversity survey and analytical techniques to evaluate avian and mammalian species and community responses in modified landscapes, particularly in tropical forest and UK upland ecosystems, and inform stakeholder-driven conservation and restoration management strategies. He has developed and delivered multidisciplinary forest-based conservation research projects in Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Pakistan and Peru.