09.03.17: Sun bear

Sun bear in tree, Columbus Zoo, Powell, Ohio. 


Technical information

July 16, 2014,
1:22 p.m.

40°9’23” N,
83°7'20" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (420mm)


1/320th second


If you are a regular visitor to the Columbus Zoo near Columbus, Ohio, you may have doubts that there’s a sun bear in the sun bear exhibit.

We’ve visited the zoo a number of times, but before this visit in 2014 I don’t think we had ever seen the sun bear. It was either hiding inside or up high in a tree hidden from view by leaves.

We knew what the bear looked like. There’s a picture on the sign outside the enclosure. But that picture was the only view we had.

I was surprised on this visit to see the sun bear. Not only was it visible, it was on a limb at eye level — a perfect position to photograph.

So I have photographic evidence that there is a sun bear in the sun bear exhibit at the Columbus Zoo.

Sun bears are native to the tropical forests in Southeast Asia, a habitat that has been significantly reduced in recent decades by development. That habitat destruction has led to a more than 30 percent decline in sun bear population over the past three bear generations. The bears’ primary diet includes bees, beehives and honey, but they will also eat termites, ants and a variety of fruit.

I was pleased that this photograph has an “in the wild” feel to it instead of an “in a zoo” feel. There’s no fencing or other obstructions in the shot.

A zoo visit provides opportunities to photograph unusual animals, but getting quality photos is challenging. It's often more difficult for me to get quality photos at a zoo than it is in the wild.

It seems like it should be the other way around. After all, I know exactly where the animals are at a zoo. There are maps and signs. Can't miss 'em. Just walk up to the pen and start shooting.

Except there are often high fences to shoot through. Or glass walls. And crowds of people. And the animals tend to seek shelter far from the viewing areas.

The best chance for success is to carry a long lens, spend time walking around the exhibits to find positions that provide clear line-of-sight to the animals and hope for some luck. 

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.