Sri Lankan Sloth Bear (M. u. inornatus) in Kumana National Park, Sri Lanka (Gaurika Wijeratne) (Creative Commons License)
Sloth bears are found in Sri Lanka, India, Bhutan and Nepal, predominantly in lowland areas. There may still be bears in the wet forests of Bangladesh but this is by no means certain. They inhabit both dry and moist deciduous forests and grasslands.
Mostly nocturnal the bears are omnivorous with termites and ants the main constituents of their diet. The bears use their claws to open the insects’ mounds and nests, sucking them up through a gap in their front teeth. They are also very fond of honey, hence their alternative name of “honey bear”.
Sloth bears do not hibernate and whilst solitary, except for mothers with cubs, seem to tolerate one another in shared ranges. Length varies from 140 to 190 centimetres. Males weigh between 80 and 140 kilograms, and females between 55 and 95 kilograms.
Mating mainly occurs in May, June and July with gestation taking six to seven months. The young are born in earth dens and litters are usually of one or two cubs although litters of three cubs have been reported. The young remain with the mother for upwards of two years. Unique amongst bears, the cubs often ride on their mother’s back.
Sloth bears are classed as vulnerable with a decreasing population due to habitat loss and poaching. Longevity is from 20 to 25 years.
Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) distribution map (used with permission © 2016 The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Melursus ursinus)
For an online and updated version of the above map click here to open the IUCN species page.
Status: Classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. The species is listed in Appendix I of CITES and is protected under the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance of Sri Lanka. Sloth bears are killed by farmers because of damage to crops, and also by hunters seeking their gall bladders for use in Asian medicine.
Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Order: Carnivora Family: Ursidae
Genus and species: Melursus ursinus (Shaw, 1791)
General description: Small and stocky with long, shaggy, black hair and a white “U” or “Y” shaped chest marking. They have large lips, a long tongue, a pale muzzle and well-developed hook-like claws that enable them to climb trees and dig for termites
Size: At shoulder typically 65 to 85 cm, head-body length 140 to 190 cm
Weight: Males 80 to 140 kg, females 55 to 95 kg
Life expectancy: In the wild around 20 to 25 years. Up to 40 years in captivity
Also known as: Stickney bear or labiated bear
SLOTH BEAR SUBSPECIES
Click on the links below for more information on the two subspecies.
MORE INFORMATION ON THE SLOTH BEAR
Sloth Bear Genetic Diversity: A short paper by Annabella Helman – published 10 June 2019 by Bear Conservation (pdf downloads from our web server).
The video below “Living with Sloth Bears was created by Wildlife SOS in the hopes of curtailing the number of bear attacks, and by doing so helping people and bears. Most of the footage was shot at the Wildlife SOS Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre.
Page updated 03 April 2021