Video of Sun Bears in Chinese Zoo Has Viewers Wondering if They're Bears at All

Anna Garrison - Author

Aug. 1 2023, Published 11:10 a.m. ET

It's always surprising to humans when animals exhibit unusual behaviors — especially when they seem to mimic humans. Whether it's otters stealing surfboards or huskies wailing for attention, no trait is too unexpected.

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On July 27, 2023, a video of a Malayan sun bear at the Hangzhou Zoo in China went viral on Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok, showing one of the zoo's sun bears standing upright. The video prompted many users to question whether the bear was a bear or a human in a costume.

Here's what you need to know about the kooky situation — plus, here's what the zoo had to say about its sun bears.

Malayan sun bear.
Source: Dušan veverkolog/Unsplash
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A Chinese zoo is forced to confirm that its sun bears are not humans in costume.

On July 27, 2023, a video of a 4-year-old sun bear named Angela at the Hangzhou Zoo in eastern China went viral on Douyin but quickly spread to global corners of the internet. The video shows one of several sun bears in an enclosure standing on her hind legs, creating a wrinkled effect that many suggested looked like a human wearing an ill-fitted costume.

As news of the bear spread, the zoo had to issue a statement insisting that Angela was just a bear and not, in fact, a human in a costume. Separate zoos in China have previously received criticism for painting donkeys to resemble zebras and dogs to resemble wolves, per LADbible. The previous incidents may have further added to skepticism over the sun bears.

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The Hangzhou Zoo wrote from the perspective of Angela on its official social media account on July 30, 2023, "Some people think I stand like a human, and it seems that you don't understand me that much. 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!"

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In a separate video posted by Shanghai Daily, zoo staff also said that the temperatures in China were too hot for a human to dress in a bear costume. "We are a state owned zoo, not a private one. It is not a person. If you watch the video, it is outdoor [sic]. The temperature reached approximately 40 degrees Celsius. If you put fur on, you're not gonna make it."

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According to National Geographic Kids, sun bears are half the size of a black bear and only weigh up to 150 pounds. They are the smallest bear species in the world and live in the wooded areas of Southeast Asia. One of their most unique features is their long tongue, which can reach up to ten inches long, and is used to help their diet of insects residing in the trees they climb.

The small enclosure this sun bear is kept in at the Hangzhou Zoo is just another example of why Green Matters does not endorse zoos. Forcing animals to live in captivity can lead to endless mental and physical problems for these animals, with PETA’s Mimi Bekhechi once telling National Geographic that “Zoos are prisons for animals, camouflaging their cruelty with conservation claims.” Click here to read more about why zoos aren't necessary.

This article has been updated.

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