August 2, 2023
Footage of the Malayan Sun Bear standing on its hind legs sparked speculation on the Chinese Internet over the weekend, but the zoo in the eastern province of Zhejiang insisted it really is a bear—just a little smaller and different to the ones we’re used to.
“Some people think I stand like a human, and it seems that you don’t understand me that much,” Hangzhou Zoo wrote on its official social media account on Sunday, July 30, from the perspective of the bear in the video, named Angela.
“Previously, some tourists thought that I was too tiny to be a bear. I have to emphasize again: I am a Malayan sun bear! Not a black bear! Not a dog! A sun bear!”
Trending topics on the subject attracted millions of views on the platform as people questioned whether the bear was a human in disguise, given its behavior as well as the visible folds of fur on its body that resemble humans wearing ill-fitting clothing.
But an expert told NBC News that such speculation was unfounded.
The animal in the video is “a sun bear for sure,” said Wong Siew Te, a wildlife biologist and the founder of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Malaysia. He has been researching the breed for about 25 years.
“I never thought it could be human in disguise,” said Gino Liu, a previous visitor to Hangzhou Zoo, speaking via a messaging app. “It is a bear but really looks like a human.”
Hangzhou Zoo declined NBC News’ request for a phone interview, saying that it only welcomes in-person interviews. But in an audio recording posted by Chinese state media, an employee denied the allegation, saying that “human beings cannot last for a few minutes in a fur suit” under the high temperatures (104°F) in the area during summer.
The number of sun bears shrank by over 30% over the past 30 years, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They are also listed as vulnerable animals on the red list created by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“Sun bears are the least-known bears in the world,” Wong said. “I believe the incident could call people’s attention [to] how sun bears may look like humans and hopefully could [let people know] that they are endangered species because of human activities,” he added, citing large-scale deforestation and hunting.
Research contact: @NBCNews