Sloth Bears

There are two subspecies of sloth bear: The Indian sloth bear Melursus ursinus ursinus  and the Sri Lankan sloth bear Melursus ursinus inornatus. They are so named because early discoverers probably saw them hanging upside down from trees or due to their slow wandering walking-style much like sloths.

Sloth bear hanging from a tree.

Habitat

Native to the Indian subcontinent, sloth bears mainly live in forested or grassland areas of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. The Sri Lankan sloth bear can only be found in lowland forests on the island of Sri Lanka.

These types of bears are not very territorial however they do leave marks on trees that they make using their teeth and claws. They usually leave markings during the mating season. They are also known to leave feces at tree bases.

Males generally wander around a 5-mile radius while females usually stick to a 3-mile radius. They can be found at the base of the Himalayas where their habitat overlaps with that of the Asiatic black bear and the Malayan sun bear in the north-eastern states of Assam and Mizoram.

Description

Sloth bears have black fur that is long and shaggy. They have an offwhite V-shaped patch of fur on their chest much like that of the sun bear and Asian black bear. The fur on their face is shorter and the fur on their long muzzle is usually offwhite or grey.

The longest and thickest fur is on their ears and the back of their neck. The Sri Lankan sloth bear has shorter hair than that of the Indian sloth bear. It is believed that their hear helps protect them from insects as well as

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Their ears are small and they do not have good hearing as well as poor eyesight. Like most other bears they have an excellent sense of smell.

Male sloth bears grow to about 6 feet in length and weigh anywhere between 175 to 310 pounds. Females are usually 1/3 the size of males.

The sloth bear’s front legs are longer than its hind legs. Their front paws are turned inward and their toes are webbed together with the padding on the bottom of their paws. They have long, curved claws that are up to 3 inches long. These features are useful when digging for ants and termites.

Diet

Sloth bears are omnivorous mammals. However, their diet consists mainly of termite and ants. These bears also eat berries, vines, flowers, eggs, honey, and insect larvae.

Sloth bears can climb trees to reach fruit or to gain access to a beehive. They use their claws to turn over rocks and logs and can dig to depths of 5 feet in search of insect colonies. Sloth bears do not fish like brown bears nor do they hunt like polar bears or graze.

Reproduction

Sloth bears are able to reproduce between the ages of 3 to 4 years. Mating season is between April and August. Females give birth to 2 cubs in an underground cave. Cubs are hairless and weigh between 10.5 to 17.5 ounces.

Both the mother and cubs stay in the cave for the first 6 to 10 weeks. After, the mother carries the cubs on her back to feeding grounds. The female carries the young for the first six months until they are too heavy for her to carry. They live together for 2 to 3 years.

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Status

The sloth bear population continues to decline year after year. There’s an estimated 7000 to 10000 sloth bears in the wild. Destruction of habitat and the ever-expanding human population are their main threats.

In India, sloth bears are prohibited from being used for entertainment purposes. Major sloth bear sanctuaries in India include the Daroji bear sanctuary, Karnataka.

Interesting Facts About Sloth Bears

  • At early an age sloth bears lose their 2 front upper incisors, creating a very useful gap through which they can suck insects.
  • They have a long tongue, a concave palate, and can extend their lips beyond their nose.
  • They can shut off their nostrils at will to prevent inhaling dirt when sucking up insects.
  • The sloth bear makes so much noise sucking up insects that it can be heard up to 300 yards away.
  • Sloth bears do not hibernate but withdraw into caves or hollow tree trunks during long rainy periods.
  • Most sloth bears will run away when hearing and or smelling people. However, they will often become so focused on what they are doing that they don’t notice the presence of others until they are encountered.
  • When they feel threatened, they will often try to bluff their enemy by charging them, then stopping short, standing on their hind legs, roaring, and displaying their enormous claws. If this doesn’t work, they will turn and run.
  • Female sloth bears can be extremely vicious in protecting their young. Sloth bears can usually defend themselves quite well with their claws.
  • Though they are excellent climbers, they do not climb trees to escape danger. This is because some of its predators, such as the leopard, can climb trees just as well.
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