Melursus ursinus

Sri Lankan Sloth Bear (M. u. inornatus) in Kumana National Park, Sri Lanka (Gaurika Wijeratne) (Creative Commons License)

OVERVIEW

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.

For an up to date and detailed map of the distribution of Ursus ursinus click here to open the IUCN map viewer.

SUMMARY

Status: Classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. It is listed in Appendix I of CITES.  They are protected under the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance of Sri Lanka.  The 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 150, females 550 to 100 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

Click here to download our comprehensive pdf species factsheet on the sloth bear

SLOTH BEAR SUBSPECIES

Click on the links below for more information on the two subspecies.

Common sloth bear (Melursus ursinus ursinus)

Sri Lankan sloth bear (Melursus ursinus inornatus)

MORE INFORMATION ON THE SLOTH BEAR

Click here to download our comprehensive pdf species factsheet on the sloth bear

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Ursus ursinus

Page updated 23 September 2017

 

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