Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
• ursinus (Indian)
•inornatus (Sri Lankan)
Body length: 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 2 meters)
Shoulder height: 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters)
Weight: 120 to 310 pounds (55 to 140 kilograms), with males larger than females
Life span: 40 years in zoos, unknown in wild
Gestation: 6 to 7 months
Number of young at birth: 1 to 2, rarely 3
Weight at birth: average 14 ounces (400 grams)
Age of maturity: 3 to 5 years
Conservation status: vulnerable
Talk about noisy! Sucking sounds the sloth bear makes while eating can be heard up to 330 feet (100 meters) away.
Sloth bears are the only bear species that carry their young around on their back.
It was believed that a sloth bear was being aggressive and threatening when it stood up on its hind feet. Often the bears are just getting a better view and checking the air for whiffs of food or danger. However, the sloth bear often comes into conflict with humans and is feared in parts of its range.
In 1985, the San Diego Zoo celebrated the birth of the first sloth bear in the Western Hemisphere. A name-the-bear contest was held, with over 14,000 entries! The winning name was Deva, a Sri Lankan name that means "Indian princess."
Mammals: Sloth Bear
With those long claws, tree climbing is a breeze for the sloth bear.
It’s a what?
Sloth bears are a bit misleading by name. They are not related to sloths and they are not slow moving. In fact, they’re fairly agile bears that can run faster than a human and have been known to attack when surprised. It was a European zoologist, George Shaw, who named the sloth bear for its extremely long, thick claws and unusual teeth. He thought that the bear must be related to the tree sloth due to these features. Sloth bears have also been seen hanging upside down on tree branches, much like a tree sloth.
A nocturnal species, these bears are unusual because they do not hibernate like some bears. They often sleep in caves and near rivers when available. Sloth bears adapt well to many different habitats and always make their presence known. Their only predators are tigers, leopards, and humans.
Sloth bears have a white patch of hair on the chest in the shape of a "Y," "O," or "U."
Y O U: Not the average bear
The sloth bear is a bit messy in appearance. It has long, rough, unruly hair around its ears, shoulders, and neck that is cinnamon to dark brown in color. The pale muzzle, usually white, and a flexible nose sniff out interesting smells. The sloth bear has a white patch of fur on its chest, in the shape of a "Y," "O," or "U." With a short, stocky body and powerful legs, this medium-size bear is actually surprisingly good at climbing trees. Its claws cannot be pulled in like a cat's, so the sloth bear looks fairly awkward when walking.
Want to have a picnic, Boo-Boo?
While it might have a “bear” of an appetite, the sloth bear has more in common with an anteater than other bears. Even though it is omnivorous, the sloth bear usually eats termites and ants. As an adaptation for this creepy-crawly diet, the bear lacks hair on its nose and can open and close its nostrils as needed. This keeps bugs from crawling up the bear's nose while it eats!
It's important to be able to close your nostrils when you're digging in the dirt with your nose!
Large, thick 3-inch (8 centimeter) claws come in handy for ripping apart termite nests in soil, old logs, or trees—a noisy activity. In fact, sloth bears are well known for being very noisy bears, especially while they eat. A large gap between the upper teeth makes the perfect space for sucking up termites. Like vacuum cleaners, the bears' lips and tongue create a powerful suction and loud slurping, sucking sounds. They also eat honey, sugarcane, flowers, fruit, eggs, grubs, and carrion. The sloth bears at the San Diego Zoo are fed omnivore kibble, fruits, veggies and some insects (mealworms and crickets).
A surprising courtship
The courtship of sloth bears is a brief encounter. Living as a solitary animal most of the time, the sloth bear will make an exception during the breeding season, which is May through July. The female then stays in a den for six to seven months until she gives birth, usually to two cubs. The male does not participate in raising the cubs; they stay with their mother until they are two to three years old. While sloth bears spends much of the time alone, it is believed that they actually keep the same mate each year.
Currently, the sloth bear remains vulnerable. This, in large part, is due to poaching. The bear's gall bladder is believed by some cultures to cure certain illnesses. Habitat destruction also plays a major role in the decline of sloth bears in Asia.
And many humans believe that sloth bears are aggressive and one of the most dangerous animals in central India; in fact, people go out of their way to find and kill the innocent bears. This is unfortunate because sloth bears are typically shy and are aggressive only when startled or confronted. Even though a hunting ban is in place, cubs are still captured and forced to perform for the Qalandars, who earn their living by making the bears "dance" for audiences.
At about five weeks of age, cubs travel on their mother's back, clinging to her long fur.
One small step for sloth bears
Sloth bears play an important role in their habitats as seed dispersers. The San Diego Zoo has started studying the sloth bear to learn more about its behavior and needs. This unique bear is worth saving, and every measure you take is one small step for the sloth bear but a big step toward saving the planet and the animals that inhabit it.