Sun bears copy each other’s facial expressions to communicate

The world’s smallest bears copy one another’s facial expressions as a means of communication.

A team at the University of Portsmouth, UK, studied 22 sun bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Malaysia. In total, 21 matched the open-mouthed expressions of their playmates during face-to-face interactions.

When they were facing each other, 13 bears made the expressions within 1 second of observing a similar expression from their playmate.

“Mimicking the facial expressions of others in exact ways is one of the pillars of human communication,” says Marina Davila-Ross, who was part of the team. “Other primates and dogs are known to mimic each other, but only great apes and humans were previously known to show such complexity in their facial mimicry.”

Sun bears have no special evolutionary link to humans, unlike monkeys or apes, nor are they domesticated animals like dogs. The team believes this means the behaviour must also be present in various other species.

Also known as honey bears, sun bears are the smallest members of the bear family. They grow to between 120 centimetres and 150 centimetres long and weigh up to 80 kilograms. The species is endangered and lives in the tropical forests of South-East Asia.

While the bears prefer a solitary life, the team says that they engage in gentle and rough play and may use facial mimicry to indicate they are ready to play more roughly or strengthen social bonds.

“It is widely believed that we only find complex forms of communication in species with complex social systems,” says Derry Taylor, also on the team. “As sun bears are a largely solitary species, our study of their facial communication questions this belief, because it shows a complex form of facial communication that until now was known only in more social species.”

Journal reference: Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-39932-6

Zoo animals roam free in Georgia’s capital after flooding

Tigers, lions, a hippopotamus and other animals escaped from the zoo in Georgia’s capital after heavy flooding destroyed their enclosures, prompting authorities to warn residents in Tbilisi to stay inside Sunday. At least 12 people have been killed in the disaster, including three zoo workers.

An escaped hippo was cornered in one of the city’s main squares and subdued with a tranquilizer gun, the zoo said. Some other animals also have been seized, but it remained unclear how many are on the loose. Bears and wolves are also among the animals that fled from their enclosures amid the flooding from heavy rains and high winds.

There were no immediate reports that any of the fatalities were due to animal attacks. The zoo said one of the dead was Guliko Chitadze, a zookeeper who lost an arm in an attack by a tiger last month; the Interfax news agency said her husband also died in the flooding.

As of mid-afternoon Sunday, it was unclear how many animals remained on the loose or what species they are.

“Not all the animals who ran away from the zoo have been captured. Therefore, I want to ask the populace to refrain from moving about the city without” an urgent need to, mayor David Narmania said.

A full accounting of what animals were missing wasn’t immediately possible because a large part of the zoo remained underwater, zoo spokeswoman Khaati Batsilaishvili told The Associated Press.

Heavy rains and wind hit Tbilisi during the night, turning a normally small stream that runs through the hilly city into a surging river. The flooding also damaged dozens of houses.

Narmania told journalists that 12 people were known to have died.

Helicopters circled the city and volunteers and rescue workers labored to help those whose residences were damaged or destroyed, despite the potential danger from the escaped animals. About 1.1 million people live in the former Soviet republic’s capital.

The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as telling a Sunday Mass that Georgia’s former Communist rulers could be seen as involved in the disaster.

“When Communists came to us in this country, they ordered that all crosses and bells of the churches be melted down and the money used to build the zoo,” he said. “The sin will not go without punishment. I am very sorry that Georgians fell so that a zoo was built at the expense of destroyed churches.”

http://bigstory.ap.org/urn:publicid:ap.org:ee2ba68a486d45558fccd24a653ac6b6