A sun bear that made headlines over suspicions it was actually a human is nothing out of the ordinary, according to a keeper at Australia’s Taronga Zoo.
Earlier this week, authorities at Hangzhou Zoo in China were forced to dismiss rumours its sun bear, Angela, was actually a human in a suit.
The news took the world by storm, with plenty agreeing after the fact that the bear, standing on its hind legs and waving to the crowd, seemed suspiciously human.
News.com.au reached out to Taronga Zoo to see if they could put the scepticism to bed once and for all.
Logan Dudley, a carnivore keeper in charge of its sun bear Mary, said its baggy skin and ability to stand on its hind legs are traits shared among the species.
“I have seen the video – I don’t think it’s a person dressed up as a sun bear,” she said.
“The standing-up behaviour seen in that video is a natural behaviour some bears display in the wild. We also see it with our sun bear here in Taronga.”
“This behaviour usually occurs when a sun bear is reaching up into the forest canopy for food.”
She said people might have been led to the suspect conclusion by the saggy rolley skin, though there’s an explanation for that too.
“The saggy, rolley skin could look like a poorly fitting costume, but it’s an adaptation sun bears have,” she explained.
“Flexible saggy skin helps to protect them from predation in the wild.”
Mary, the 13-year-old sun bear who calls Taronga home, is originally from Canberra Zoo, and her mother was rescued and brought to Australia from South East Asia.
Ms Dudley assured Mary was “definitely not a human”, nor have any Taronga visitors been sceptical of such a thing.
“None of us are going behind the scenes every day to get dressed up and sit up on exhibit,” she joked.
Distinguishing features for Sun Bears, according to Ms Dudley, are a light brown chest plate and their stature, being the world’s smallest bear, standing the height of a tall human and weighing 80 to 90 kgs at maturity.
They’re also the best climbers of the bear species.
Sun Bears in Southeast Asia face threats to their survival due to habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade for the pet industry, gourmet cuisine, and traditional medicine.
The creation of logging roads has also provided convenient access for poachers, and sun bears are often captured from the wild to be kept as pets or killed for their bile.