Development of Explorative Behavior and Neophobia in Captive Sun Bears (Helarctos malayanus)

Isa Spiero, Constanze Mager, Henk Siepel


Neophobia is the aversion to novelty and is a widespread phenomenon in the animal kingdom. In bears (Ursidae) neophobic responses seem to develop around the age of 5 months, and disturbance of this development may be the cause of rehabilitation failures. However, little is known about the behavioral development of bear cubs, which may be helpful for successful rehabilitation as well as for zoo animal management. Here, the development of explorative behavior and neophobia is investigated in two captive sun bear cubs (Helarctos malayanus). The behavior of the animals is observed between the ages of 4 to 6 months and neophobic responses are tested during general observations and in novel object tests. It would be expected that explorative behavior decreases while neophobia increases and that this development is in parallel with a growth in (social) distance to their mother. The results show that there is no decrease in explorative behavior of the cubs and no evidence for the development of neophobia is found. However, the distance to the mother does increase between the ages of 4 to 6 months, indicating that this would be an evident timeframe for neophobia to develop. These findings suggest that either no development of neophobia occurs in the sun bear, or the captive environment has disturbed their natural development. Further research comparing captive and wild cubs should clarify this. 


Ursidae; exploration; novel object test; bear cubs; captivity; rehabilitation

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