Debunking the bear: Expert explains why sun bear in viral China zoo video is not human

Viral videos of a bear standing upright left some people wondering if the bear might actually be an actor

By Rachel Dixon, Multimedia Producer

Footage of a human-like bear - with a rather saggy bum and standing on its hind legs - has left puzzled onlookers and the internet clawing for answers.

Social media users have questioned whether the fluffy creature, named Angela, which calls Hangzhou Zoo home, is actually a person in costume.

The Chinese attraction strongly denies the claims.

As new footage emerges of the bear waving at increasingly big crowds - visitors are reportedly up 30% to around 20,000 a day since the zoo went viral - ITV News has spoken to an expert to debunk the bear debate.

Is it a human in a costume?

Sadly for the conspiracy theorists, Paradise Wildlife Park Director Tyler Whitnall is "pretty confident" the mammal in the video is actually a sun bear.

While the bear's standing, posture, waving and body language appears very human, it is natural sun bear behaviour.

Paradise Wildlife Park's Director Tyler Whitnall and a Tapir. Credit: Paradise Wildlife Park

Why is it standing up?

"While some sun bears look human when they stand, they actually have a natural behaviour of standing on their feet," Mr Whitnall, whose family runs the Hertfordshire zoo, said.

The One Zoo Three TV show host, who grew up around wild animals, but made it his profession a decade ago, added: "It gives them a greater view of their surroundings and objects."

He added: "They use it too intimidate their enemies and display the big impressive chest they've got when they feel threatened but also while playing and fighting, they often open their mouths at each other, our two sun bears do it a lot."

The behaviour is nothing to be concerned about, and could be linked to the bear picking up a scent, he added.

Surely that saggy backside proves it is a costume?

There has been a lot of controversy about the bear's flat bum, but it turns out this is actually a very important adaptation.

Mr Whitnall said: "It's loose skin around their behind and their back

"That's there as a defensive adaptation to help them wriggle away from predators or other bears they're fighting with."

If its not human, why is it waving?

While Mr Whitnall can't be certain where the bear learned to wave, he says it is likely the intelligent creature picked it up from human interaction.

He said: "That could be to do with feeding or if they've [the zoo] done training with certain animals, for health checks or when keepers have called them over to separate them.

"That's the sort of behaviour they pick up and from observing the public as well, they're very intelligent animals.

"The animals are very smart, it's a case of keeping their minds occupied, their brain's thinking there's always ways they'll mimic certain behaviours - that's why you need to keep their life varied as possible."

What about those markings on its chest?

Kyra the sun bear who lives at Paradise Wildlife Park. Credit: Paradise Wildlife Park

Though people have been quick to question the bear's arched gold markings, it's actually the sun bear's namesake.

The golden patch on their chest is said to represent the rising sun, hence sun bears.

'Horrific' Bear Bile trade

While the viral videos have lead to jokes and memes online, in the real world sun bears are under threat.

Their population in the wild has been "devastated" by poachers who illegally use their bile for Chinese medicine in illegal bear bile farms.

Mr Whitnall said: "They catch bears from the wild and put them in tiny prisons.

"Their gal bladders are extracted in horrific ways and are used in Chinese medicine which hasn't been scientifically proven."

Due to the demand for their bile and solitary nature, it's very rare to come across them in their natural habitat - the dense lowland forests of south-east Asia.

Indera the sun bear, who lives at Paradise Wildlife Park. Credit: Paradise Wildlife Park

It is believed there could be as many as 20,000 sun bears, moon bears and brown bears being kept in illegal bear bile farms today.

Paradise Wildlife Park has teamed up with Free the Bears, which releases the animals back into the wild, to help aid their conservation.

In April 2023 two sun bears made the Broxbourne park their home, in a habitat with binturong and Asian short clawed otters.

The pair love play fighting together, are very intelligent and constantly on the move, according to Mr Whitnall.

Find out more about how to help sun bears here.

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