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Sloth Bear Fact File

Ursus ursinus

Weight

80-140kg

(176-308lbs)

Length

1.4-1.8m

(4.5-6ft)

Lifespan

Wild 20-25 years

Captive 40 years

Diet

Omnivore

Insects, Fruit

Conservation Status

IUCN

Vulnerable

The sloth bear was originally named as they were sighted hanging upside down in a tree leading the scientist which described them for science to group them with sloths.

These animals are omnivores with a wide ranging diet including fruit, honey, eggs and insects. These insects are a major portion of their diet and the sloth bear has a range of adaptations to help protect against attacks by ants and termites.

They are a native of Asia where they will seek shelter in a rocky outcrop, thicket or tree cavity.

Sloth bears are threatened by habitat loss, retaliatory killings and poaching for the traditional medicine trade and wildlife trades. These animals are used in dancing bear displays to try and make money for their owners.

Read on to learn more about these magnificent mammals.

Appearance

Sloth bears are covered by a coat of shaggy, fur across the body. Their fur is highly variable in coloration ranging from black to brown or reddish.

The muzzle is paler compared with the rest of the body. It is mostly bare of any fur.

Their chest is patterned with a white mark in a U, Y or O shape.

The feet of a sloth bear are turned slightly inward. This adaptation is thought to help them dig more efficently.

On each of the feet they have long, non-retractable claws which mean it is difficult for these bears to climb trees. The foreclaws may measure up to 8cm (3in) long.

An average sloth bear will measure 1.4-1.8m (4.5-6ft) long with a tail measuring just 7-12cm (2.75-4.75in) long. They will weigh between 80 and 140kg (176 and 308lbs).

Males tend to be larger than females.

Diet


The sloth bear is unique among bears in that it will feed primarily on insects, with the main focus being termites. A gap is present between the teeth to help suck up insects through their teeth. Their feeding method creates a loud noise which may carry up to 100m (330ft) away.

They are considered omnivores as they also feed on fruit, honey and eggs. During the fruiting season this may grow to be as much as 70-90% of their diet.

To protect against the dangers presented by termites they can close their nostrils if needed and a hairless patch is present on the snout to protect them against secretions emitted by the termites.

Food is primarily located through scent. The long claws are used to dig in to termite and ant nests.

Sloth bear

Range

Asia is the native home of the sloth bear. Here they can be found in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

The species has been driven to extinction to Bangladesh. It is presumed they once occurred in Bhutan but they are now extinct here.

In the past their range has overlapped in areas with the Asiatic black bear and the sun bear.

Habitat

They make their home in forest, savanna, shrubland and grassland. Much of their range is in lowland areas.

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Reproduction

Mating takes place during June and July. They have a gestation period of six to seven months.

A female will dig a burrow or find a natural hollow where they can give birth to her cubs. An average of two cubs are born though three is possible.

Cubs spend the first 2-3 months of their life in the den before being carried on mom's back for a further six months. This habit helps to reduce the chances of predators taking the young.

Independence is not reached until 2 years old. Due to this females only produce cubs once evert two to three years.

Almost half of all cubs will not make adulthood.

Sexual maturity is reached between 3 and 5 years old.

Behavior

Sloth bears are rather fast and can exceed the speed of a human.

Outside of the breeding season the sloth bear will be solitary. Despite this they do show a tolerance to others entering their territory.

They have the ability to stand just on their back two legs. This was originally thought to just be a defensive behavior but can also be used for gaining a better view of their surrounds and smell for food.

As with many animals which feed primarily on ants and termites they have rather small home ranges.

Sloth bears are primarily active by night or at dawn and dusk. This allows them to escape the high temperatures in much of their range.

During the day time they will seek shelter in a rocky outcrop, thicket or tree cavity.

Unlike bears found in colder climate areas the sloth bear will not enter a period of hibernation instead being active year round. Some exhibit a short period of inactivity during the rainy season.

Sloth bears produce few vocalizations but if threatened can let out a loud roar.

Sloth bear

Predators and Threats

Sloth bears have only two natural predators which have been recorded, the tiger and leopards. They have shown an ability to ward off tigers which try to attack them.

When threatened the sloth bear will stand up and show off its large claws.

The population of sloth bears is declining according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. A rough estimate of the population places it around 20,000 but no formal study has been conducted on this.

Humans have severely affected their population through habitat loss and degradation, retaliatory killings following human-bear conflict and poaching.

Some poaching occurs to fuel the traditional medicine and captivity trades.

Many of the bears which are poached are used in dancing bear shows. Often a mother is killed to take the cubs and these are then subjected to a painful procedure to place a rope through the muzzle which is used to induce a 'dancing behavior' from the bear on demand. These displays have existed since the Mughal area but have thankfully been reduced in recent history.

Quick facts

They are also known as the Stickney bear or labiated bear.

Two subspecies of the sloth bear are recognized. These are the Indian sloth bear Ursus ursinus ursinus, Sri Lankan sloth bear Ursus ursinus inornatus.

Their name, sloth bear, came from observations made when the species was first recorded for science by George Shaw in 1791. They were seen hanging upside down in a tree similar to a sloth and initially named the bear sloth.

Sloth bear

Photo Credits

Top

Chandan Singh from India, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Middle One and Two

Under License

Bottom

Public Domain

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2012. The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of the world. London: Southwater.

Dharaiya, N., Bargali, H.S. & Sharp, T. 2020. Melursus ursinus (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T13143A166519315. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-1.RLTS.T13143A166519315.en. Downloaded on 21 August 2021.

Bearconservation.org.uk. 2021. Sloth bear – Bear Conservation. [online] Available at: <http://www.bearconservation.org.uk/sloth-bear/> [Accessed 21 August 2021].

Wildlife SOS. 2021. Bears – Wildlife SOS. [online] Available at: <https://wildlifesos.org/our-work/bear/> [Accessed 21 August 2021].

San Diego Zoo Kids. 2021. Sloth bear. [online] Available at: <https://kids.sandiegozoowildlifealliance.org/animals/sloth-bear> [Accessed 21 August 2021].

Bies, L. 2002. "Melursus ursinus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed August 21, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Melursus_ursinus/

World Land Trust. 2021. Sloth Bear: Species in World Land Trust reserves. [online] Available at: <https://www.worldlandtrust.org/species/mammals/sloth-bear/> [Accessed 21 August 2021].

Animals.sandiegozoo.org. 2021. Sloth Bear | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/sloth-bear> [Accessed 21 August 2021].

Smithsonian's National Zoo. 2021. Sloth bear. [online] Available at: <https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/sloth-bear> [Accessed 22 August 2021].

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