Sun Bear Forest Shines
A waterfall cascading over a rocky ledge into pools below; palm, ficus, and banana trees plus ferns, bamboo, and gingers in levels of a forest canopy; climbing structures, earthen caves, and perch-filled aviaries—together, they made up Sun Bear Forest, which opened in 1989. The Zoo’s new bioclimatic habitat followed the design concepts from Tiger River to create an Asian forest for tree-climbing Malayan sun bears, binturongs, and a troop of lion-tailed macaques. Critically endangered in their native habitat in India’s Western Ghat Mountains and rare in zoos, the silvery-maned macaques were a particularly interesting species for Zoo visitors to see and learn more about, watching the interactions of the family group led by the handsome alpha male, Leo.
On opening day for Sun Bear Forest, however, it was the exhibit’s namesake, the young, energetic sun bears, that had everyone’s attention—because they had formed a spontaneous five-bear wrecking crew! Sun bears are strong, agile, and clever by nature—they’ve been called “monkeys in bear suits”—and they can do a lot of damage with their long, sharp claws. From the moment they were let out into the new exhibit, the five troublemakers had a field day. They turned over every rock and log, rearranged all the climbing structures that weren’t nailed down, and stripped the bark off the logs and tree branches. Then they discovered they could get their claws under the edges of the square patches of sod that had not yet taken root, rolled them all up, flung them around, and were even seen “wearing” them on their heads and backs! They had a blast—but one can only imagine the dismay of the exhibit and horticulture staff, and the cleanup the next day.