Hand-rearing Sun Bears  (Disease Investigation & Management - Treatment and Care)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Disease Investigation & Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords Hand-rearing Helarctos malayanus - Sun bear
Description There is little species-specific information about hand-rearing Helarctos malayanus - Sun bears. Data on this page should be used in conjunction with information in the pages:
Initial Care
  • [No species-specific information available]
General Care (including warmth and hygiene)
  • A cub was rubbed with a damp sponge after every feed (as a substitute for licking by the mother, in addition to toileting. (J23.9.w5)
Milk Replacer
  • 560 mL cows' milk, four eggs, six teaspoons powdered glucose, plus multivitamins. Fed from birth to weaning. (J23.9.w5)
  • A powdered milk replacer (unspecified) was used, with a small amount of added rice flour, to 3.5 months. (J368.11.w1)
  • A standard baby bottle and nipple were used to feed a cub at Melbourne Zoo. (J23.9.w5)
Feeding Frequency
  • Initially every two hours; by four weeks every three hours; and from six weeks every four hours. (J23.9.w5)
Feeding Technique
  • Bear cubs must be fed lying on their front with the head slightly elevated holding the nipple of the bottle. A bear cub fed lying on its back may inhale milk and this may result in aspiration pneumonia (Aspiration Pneumonia in Birds, Elephants and Bears). (B123.19.w19)
  • [No species-specific information available]
  • Initially 14 mL per feed (every two hours day and night), the quantity increasing: by four weeks, 56 mL per feed (every three hours); by six weeks, 112 mL per feed (every four hours). (J23.9.w5)
  • Bear cubs require stimulation of the anal area with a warm damp cloth in order to urinate and defecate. (B16.9.w9, B64.26.w5, P85.1.w4, P85.1.w8)
  • Toileting and burping was required to two months old, after which the cub produced a voluntary bowel movement about once daily. (J23.9.w5)
  • [No species-specific information available]
  • It is generally recommended that animals should be weighed daily at least in the initial stages of hand-rearing, to monitor progress and check that food intake is sufficient. (V.w5)
  • At three months, fruit and some bread soaked in milk was given; the cub was weaned at four months. (J23.9.w5)
  • From 3.5 to eight months, cubs were fed milk substitute from powder, maize flour and bean cake, supplemented with bone dust [calcium]. After eight months the diet was changed to maize flour, wheat bran, fish meal and bean cake, supplemented with bone dust and salt. (J368.11.w1)
  • A cub removed from its mother at 39 days was bottle fed for only a week before being weaned. Cubs removed at 54 and 60 days were weaned immediately. The diet given was Hill's P/D [high quality canned food] dusted with 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of Esbilac milk powder. To four months of age, cubs were given 1/2 - 3/4 of a can of P/D three times daily, then they were given one can twice daily to eight months, at which time they were transferred to the adult diet. (J23.14.w1)
  • No information [cubs were not being reared for release].
Appropriate Use (?)
  • For cubs which are being neglected by their mother, or if the mother has previously neglected cubs and is expected to do so again. (J23.9.w5)
  • Hand-rearing a bear cub from an early age is very time consuming. Feeding, toileting, burping and cleaning a new-born cub took one hour, and this was carried out every two hours day and night initially. (J23.9.w5)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Because of the risks of cubs becoming too tame and not integrating with other bears, bear cubs should not be hand-reared routinely; parent rearing is preferable. (D247.6.w6, J23.14.w3)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Feeding bottle and nipple.

  • Milk formula.

  • Milk formulas recommended for other bears include Esbilac, Multi-Milk and Milk Matrix 30/50.

Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Rearing bear cubs is time-intensive and requires dedication and experience.
Cost/ Availability
  • Hand-rearing of young bear cubs requires a considerable time investment.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Zoo-born bear cubs should not be hand-reared as a matter of routine. Failure of females to rear cubs usually occurs due to disturbance; every effort should be made to avoid the female being disturbed.
  • Orphaned/abandoned wild-born bear cubs should not be taken for hand-rearing if they have reached an age at which they are likely to survive alone.
  • Hand-rearing should not be started unless the carer is prepared to give the time and effort required for rearing to release, or to ensure that appropriate care will be continued through to release. 
  • Consider whether hand-rearing is the best option for the individual compared with leaving it in the wild. 
  • Consider whether euthanasia is a more humane/kinder option for the individual than attempting hand-rearing. 
  • If wild-born cubs are hand-reared, every effort should be made to rear them with conspecifics, and to ensure that the cubs are maintained suitable for release, preferably not habituated to humans, dogs etc. 
Author Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee --
References B16.9.w9, B64.26.w5, B123.19.w19, D247.6.w6, J23.9.w5, J23.14.w1, J368.11.w1, P85.1.w4, P85.1.w8, V.w5

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