Sloth bear

The sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) is native to the Indian subcontinent. It is lankier than the Asian black bear, and sports long and shaggy fur with a mane.

sloth bear

The sloth bear is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. The main threats are habitat loss and habitat degradation. One of the major sanctuaries for sloth bears is the Daroji bear sanctuary in Karnataka, India.

Where?

The sloth bear is found on the Indian subcontinent, including India, Sri Lanka and Nepal´s southern lowlands. It used to live in Bangladesh as well but is now extinct there.

Habitat

The sloth bear is found is several different habitats, including wet tropical forest, dry tropical forest, scrubland, savannah, and grasslands.

Food

The sloth bear chiefly feeds on ants, termites and fruit, but will also supplement its diet with other things, such as plant matter and occasional carrion. It loves honey and honeycomb.

The sloth bear is a very skilled hunter of ants and termites. It can locate ants and termites by smell, and use its long lower lip and palate to suck them up. If it encounters a termite mount, the sloth bear will employ its powerful claws to scrape its way to the large combs present at the bottom of the gallery.

In March and April, sloth bears can be observed eating the fallen petals of the mohwa tree. These bears are also known to be very fond of jackfruit, golden shower tree pods, and mango fruit.

Behaviour

  • The sloth bear is more nocturnal than the other bears. Females are more day-active when they have cubs.
  • Sloth bears normally walk in a slow, shambling style, but are capable of galloping faster than a running human. These bears are also skilled climbers and swimmers and like to play in the water.
  • The sloth bear scrapes trees and rub its flanks against them to mark its territory.

Hibernation & rest

Sloth bears do not hibernate, but they like to take naps in caves during the rainy season. Outside the rainy season, they make day beds from broken branches in trees.

Sloth bear close up

Reproduction

The breeding season varies depending on location.

  • In India, sloth bears mate in April-June, and the cubs are born in December-January.
  • In Sri Lanka, mating and birthing occur years round.

The average pregnancy is 210 days. The birth will take place in a cave or among sheltering boulders. The standard litter consists of one or two cubs; three is rare. The cubs do not open their eyes until they are four weeks old. Around the same time, they start walking.

The cubs will ride on their mother´s back as she walks, gallops and climbs.

The cub becomes independent 2-3 years of age.

Sexual maturity usually happens at the age of 3.

Scientific classification

Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Carnivora
Family:Ursidae
Subfamily:Ursinae
Genus:Melursus
Species:M. ursinus

Subspecies

  • Indian slot bear (M. u. ursinus). This is the nominate subspecies, and also the most widespread.
  • Sri Lankan sloth bear (M. u. inornatus). Compared to the nominate subspecies, it is a smaller bear with a notably smaller skull. The body hair is shorter, and some individuals lack the white chest mark. Once upon a time, this subspecies lived throughout Sri Lanka, but now it can only be found in the northern and eastern lowlands, because so much of the upland forests have been converted to plantations.