By Editor-Tuesday, August 1st, 2023.
A zoo in eastern China has denied social media suggestions that some of its sun bears might be humans dressed-up in bear costumes after videos of a Malayan sun bear standing on its hind legs – and looking rather human – went viral, fueling rumors and conspiracy theories on Chinese social media.
In a statement written from the perspective of a sun bear named “Angela,” officials from Hangzhou zoo said people “didn’t understand” the species.
In videos shared on the popular Chinese microblogging site Weibo, a sun bear was seen standing upright on a rock and looking out of its enclosure.
Many Weibo users noted the animal’s upright posture, as well as folds of loose fur on its behind – making the bear look somewhat odd and fueling speculation that a human imposter might be masquerading in its place.
It might sound like an implausible gambit. But zoos in China have courted public ridicule in the past for trying to pass off pets like dogs as wild animals.
In 2013, a city zoo in the central Henan province angered visitors by trying to pass off a Tibetan Mastiff dog as a lion. Visitors who had approached the enclosure expressed shock when they heard the “lion” bark.
Visitors at another Chinese zoo, in Sichuan province, were shocked to discover a golden retriever sitting in a cage labeled as an African lion enclosure.
Native to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, sun bears are the world’s smallest bear species. Adult bears stand at heights of up to 70 centimeters tall (28 inches) and weigh between 25 to 65 kilograms (55 to 143 pounds), experts say.
They do not hibernate and are also characterized by amber colored crescent shaped fur patches on their chests and long tongues which help them extract honey from bee hives – earning them the name “beruang madu” (honey bear) in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Sun bears are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are a protected species in native countries like Malaysia.
Dr Ashleigh Marshall, an expert from Chester Zoo in England, told the BBC 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.
Sources: CNN, BBC, AP News, news agencies.