What is the Smallest Bear in the World?

The smallest bear in the world is the Sun Bear from South East Asia. They are about 1.2 meters long and weigh about 65 kilograms. They have a beautiful black coat with a horseshoe shaped patch of golden fur on their neck, which is, I assume, how they got their name. These bears have an interesting defense mechanism against predators. When bitten and held at the scruff of their neck, their skin is so loose that they can actually turn their head around and bite their attacker.

Sun Bears are omnivorous and can eat a wide variety of food. They themselves have almost no natural predators save man, but can be taken off guard by jaguars and reticulated pythons. Their fur and gall bladders are harvested. The gallbladders are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). These bears, along with the Siberian Tiger have been in danger from people harvesting various parts of their bodies for use in TCM. It is not clear that there is any medicinal value from these organs or parts. The tiger’s bones are made into a plaster to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Although not part of TCM, the tiger’s penis is often harvested, and made into a wine or soup by local folk customs throughout Asia.

I digress, as I often do. The bile from the gallbladder of the bear is used to treat a variety of ailments from liver disease to high blood pressure, to pain and poison antidotes. Bears in particular have a high amount of tauro ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA). In fact, bile is one of the scientifically proven, alternative, medical treatments for liver cirrhosis and gallstones. There is hope for the bears; Japanese scientists found a way to synthesize UDCA from cow gallbladders. In addition, there are a growing number of bear farms in China that are harvesting bile without killing the animal. Bile medicine is available in Canada under the name Ursofalk and in the US under the name Actigal.

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