Our sun bears are real, not humans in disguise

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A zoo in eastern China has reassured visitors its sun bears are real rather than humans in disguise, after footage of one animal standing like a person sent rumours flying online.

Responding to a viral video of a bear on its hind legs, Hangzhou Zoo said people “don’t understand” the species.

Social media users had speculated that the bear could be a person in costume.

Sun bears, the smallest bear species in the world, are generally the size of a large dog, the zoo says.

They are an endangered species native to the rainforests of South East Asia.

In the video, the sun bear is seen standing tall on the edge of its enclosure, holding its paws by its side and seemingly observing the zoo’s visitors for itself.

People on social media had questioned how the bear could stand so upright on slender legs, as well as the appearance of what looks to be skin bagging around its hips – some noting the similarity to those on an ill-fitting bear suit.

In a post written from the perspective of a sun bear called Angela, Hangzhou Zoo said: “Some people think I stand like a person… It seems you don’t understand me very well.”

“When it comes to bears, the first thing that comes to mind is a huge figure and astonishing power… But not all bears are behemoths and danger personified.”

The zoo, through the bear’s voice, instead emphasised sun bears are “petite, the smallest bear in the world”.

Hangzhou Zoo’s post notes that the bears stand around 1.3m (4ft) tall when standing up on their hind legs, which is less than half the size of grizzly bears native to North America.

Visits were being arranged for reporters to see the bear on Monday, a zoo employee told AP news agency over the phone.

Dr Ashleigh Marshall, an expert from Chester Zoo, says the animal in the video is “definitely a real bear”- although she concedes sun bears do often “look a lot like people in their costumes”.

Asked on the BBC’s PM programme about the ruffled appearance of the bear’s skin around its rear end, she said this is a normal and very important feature of its anatomy.

The folds help protect the bears from predators, as the looseness allows the bear to “turn around in their skin” and fight back if a large animal like a tiger were to get hold of them, Dr Marshall explained.

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