Sloth Bear

Sloth Bear

The Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus), also known as the Lip Bear, is a mammal of the family Ursidae which is native to the lowland forests of India, Nepal,Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The Sloth Bear is the only bear species classified in genus Melursus. Though originally classed as a "bear sloth" due to the shape of its claws and its arboreal habits, it was appropriately reclassified as a bear in the 1800s.



The body is 150–190 cm long, covered in long, shaggy fur, ranging from auburn to black, with a distinctive "V"-shaped white mark on the chest, a whitish snout and black nose. The snout is long with bare lips and a lack of upper incisors, adaptations for its insect-based diet. The front feet are turned inwards and have 4 inch long, non-retractable, curved claws that are adapted for digging and climbing. The males, weighing 80–140 kg, are larger than the females, which weigh only 55–95 kg. Its pugmarks are very similar to a human footprint. The tail is 15-18 cm (6-7 inches) long, the longest in the bear family. Their natural lifespan is unknown, however, a captive specimen was recorded to have lived 40 years.


The age of sexual maturity in sloth bears is 3 years. Female Sloth Bears typically give birth to two cubs in December-early January after a gestation of 210 days. The cubs are typically born in a cave or under large boulders, where they remain for two to three months, and continue to accompany the mother for at least a further two years. Sloth bear cubs tend to travel sooner than in other bear species, and will ride on their mother's back while walking, running or climbing. Cubs will fight for space when clinging to the sow. The sow carries the cubs until they are a third of her size. The cubs attain independence at the age of 24-36 months. Sloth bears are the only bear species to carry their young on their back.


Sloth bears are the most nocturnal of bears, though sows with cubs will often move in daylight. They do not hibernate. Sloth bears are excellent climbers, and will stay in trees to feed and rest, though not to escape danger. They are capable of jumping from distances of 10 feet, and can hang upside-down in a sloth-like manner. They mark their territories either by rubbing their flanks against trees, or scraping bark with their claws.


The Sloth Bear primarily eats ants and termites, breaking into termite mounds with large powerful claws and eating the occupants. It uses its long tubular snout to blow away dirt and suck up the insects, the sounds of which can be heard from 100 meters away. It may also eat honey, eggs, birds, flowers, tubers, fruits, grains and meat. The animal's fondness for honey has caused it to be nicknamed the Honey bear (a nickname also given to the sun bear); it has been known to scale the occasional tree to knock down a bee honeycomb, which it will then enjoy on the ground below. Unlike other bears, sloth bears do not congregate in feeding groups, due to even food dispersal. When feeding their cubs, sows are reported to regurgitate a mixture of half digested Jack fruit, wood apples and pieces of honey comb. This sticky substance hardens into a dark yellow circular bread-like mass which is fed to the cubs. This "bear's bread" is considered a delicacy by some of India's natives.

Interactions with humans

Sloth bears are said to be the most aggressive and least predictable of Asian bears. Though they kill less livestock than Asiatic black bears, in some areas of India and Burma, sloth bears are more feared than tigers, due to their more unpredictable temperament. In Madhya Pradesh, sloth bear attacks accounted for the deaths of 48 people and the injuring of 686 others between the years 1989 and 1994. One specimen, known as the Sloth bear of Mysore, was single handedly responsible for the deaths of 12 people and the mutilation of 2 dozen others before being shot by Kenneth Anderson. Sloth bears attack savagely when surprised, with the majority of attacks occurring at night. They typically charge on all fours with their head held low, before rearing on their hind legs and striking at their victims with their claws and teeth onto the shoulders and temples.


Poaching and loss of this habitat and fragmentation of available habitat are the primary threats to the survival of the Sloth Bear on the Indian subcontinent. Humans hunt the Sloth Bear primarily for its gall bladder, which is valued in eastern medicine. The Sloth Bear's current conservation status is Vulnerable.

Further reading


External links

  • Field Trip Earth - Field Trip Earth is a conservation education website operated by the North Carolina Zoological Society.
  • Sloth Bear at Animal Diversity Web

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