Sri Lankan sloth bears are termite eating mammals of the Ursaidae family. These bears are distinguishable from Asian blackbears by their lankier bodies, longer, shaggier coats, pale muzzles, and white elongated claws those can harm  anyone come across. Sri Lankan Sloth Bear is one of the big three animals that may be spotted in Sri Lanka’s national parks.

With uncommon sightings, Sri Lankan sloth bears draw tourists to national parks such as Yala and Wilpattu, and may be observed at both dawn and twilight in several of the country’s national parks. The loss of forest cover for agricultural land and human development pose significant risks to the sloth Bear.

sloth bear

Bear species in the world

There are eight bear species and forty-six subspecies worldwide. Bears come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and habitats. However, common traits like as huge stocky bodies, rounded ears, shaggy hair, and short tails distinguish all Ursidae or bear family members. The diet of each species differs, but all bears are omnivores, consuming both plants and animals. Yes, all bears enjoy honey.

  1. North American Black Bear (Ursus Americanus)
  2. Asiatic Black Bear (Selenarctos thibetanus)
  3. Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
  4. Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus)
  5. Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus)
  6. Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus)
  7. Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)
  8. Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

Sloth Bear Subspecies

There are commenly two sloth bear subspecies.

  • Indian sloth bear – Melursus ursinus ursinus  
  • Sri Lankan sloth bear -Melursus ursinus inornatus.

Sloth Bear Size

Sloth bears found in Sri Lanka are around two-thirds the size of sloth bears found in India. The adult male sloth bear may weigh up to 130 kg on average, whereas the adult female can weigh as little as 110 kg. At the shoulders, they are between 60 and 90 cm tall. 

Sri Lankan Sloth Bear Facts

  • The ears and lips are the two main characteristics that set the Sri Lankan Sloth Bear species apart from other bears. Sloth bears have huge ears as opposed to the typically tiny, rounded ears of other bear species. Additionally, they have lengthy hair covering their floppy ears.
  • Sloth bears have big noses and lengthy lower lips. They actually serve a useful purpose. Feeding on insects is much simpler when you can smell them and slurp them up with your huge nose and lengthy lips.
  • The Sri Lankan Sloth may not have the distinctive white mark on its chest and has shorter body hair. They are the bears with the longest tails, some of which may reach a length of seven inches

Where are Sloth Bears Found in Sri Lanka

Numerous ecosystems, like termite mounds, have a high insect population where these bears can be found. Instead of living in mountainous settings, the majority of bears reside in lower-elevation habitats. They regularly browse on rocky outcrops and other places where there are lots of insects to eat and prefer dry woods to rainforests.

This species is restricted to Sri Lanka’s lowland dry zone woods, which provide protection and shade and are mostly found in protected regions. These locations are characterized by brush and towering woods.

What Sloth Bears Eat

This species mostly feeds on insects. Their main meal is termites, and they use their strong sense of smell to detect termite mounds. The bears smash apart the termite mounds with their strong, curved claws and suck up the insects. The sensitive and flexible nose aids in shaping its lips into a tube-like shape, allowing the lips to act similarly to a vacuum-cleaner nozzle to enable sucking termites.

They will also eat flowers, mangoes, honey, wood apples, and other fruits and seeds. Unlike brown bears and other bear species, they do not concentrate around a single food source. In addition, unlike other bear species, they rarely prey on animals of any type.

Social Behavior of the Sloth Bear

Sloth Bears like to live alone and in groups. They  will scrape trees with their forepaws and rub their flanks against them to mark their territory. The majority of these bears are nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. Females with cubs will be more active throughout the day to escape potential nighttime predators of her kids.

Male sloth bears are kind with cubs, and adult males may roam in pairs. Bear cubs do not climb trees to flee a threat, unlike other bear species. They continue to ride on their mother’s back while she violently chases the predator away.

Reproduction of the Sloth Bear

Sri Lankan Sloth Bears reproduce all year. They often give birth in caves or shelters under rocks after a 210-day gestation period. Litters are normally made up of one or two cubs, and on rare occasions three.

Cubs are born blind and open their eyes four weeks later. They can walk at one month old, but prefer to go on mom’s back for protection and speed. They are not totally self-sufficient until they are two or three years old.

Sri Lankan Sloth Bear

Best places to see Sloth Bears in Sri Lanka

Due to their desire to avoid people, sloth bears are not very common. The ideal time to watch sloth bears is in May or June when they are climbing enormous palu (Manilkara hexandra) trees to eat its delicious, nutritious fruit in the national parks of Yala, Wilpattu, Kumana, and Wasgomuwa.

Yala National Park

Yala is Sri Lanka’s most well-known national park, comprising the Southern and Uva provinces. The park is split into five parts covering a total area of 130,000 hectares. It is the most visited and second largest National Park in Sri Lanka. Yala’s most popular tourist destination is Block 1. There are an estimated 25-30 leopards, making it the highest leopard density in the world.

The top three to look out for in Yala are the elephant, sloth bear, and leopard. Although sloth bears are generally nocturnal and reclusive, they can be observed in May and June as they feed on the seasonal berries of ‘Palu’ trees.

The dry season, which lasts from February to July, With the water levels lower, easier to spot animals, notably leopards, drinking in the lagoons. Each year, the park closes for the months of September and October to allow the animals to rest.

Yala Entrance

Wilpattu National Park

Wilpattu National Park, located north of Colombo near the ancient city of Anuradhapura, is Sri Lanka’s biggest and oldest national park. It became a National Park in 1938 and one of the best place in Sri Lanka for Sri Lankan Sloth bear sightings.

The existence of “Villu,” a natural lake habitat, inspired the park’s name. The erosion of underlying limestone deposits creates villus, which are landscape cavities. There are about 50 Villus in the park. This magnificent habitat is protected by the worldwide Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Wilpattu safaris are perfect for wildlife photographers who wish to shoot animals in stunning locations. Wilpattu National Park is best visited all year. The main season, however, is from February through October.

Population of sri Lankan Sloth Bear

With less than 1000 individuals left in several scattered communities and a declining population, the Sri Lankan sloth bear is very endangered. Its natural population may only number 500. Since the Sri Lankan sloth bear depends heavily on natural forests for its food source, unlike other large Sri Lankan mammals, the destruction of dry-zone natural forests is its greatest concern. 

Conservation of Sri Lankan Sloth Bear

According to Sri Lanka’s Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, the sloth bear is strictly protected. This species’ national conservation status is considered to be “Endangered” (National Rod List 2012). The IUCN has the sloth bear on its list of Vulnerable species.

The primary dangers to the Sri Lankan sloth bear are human expansion into wooded regions and severe deforestation, and because there is little scientific knowledge about sloth bear behaviors, it is crucial that Sri Lanka maintains its acknowledgment of its numerous natural treasures. To be able to be proud of its unique and rare species of sloth bear, Sri Lanka must continue to preserve and conserve the sloth bear’s environment.

Image courtesy of Gayan Sandaruwan via creative commons licenses. some rights reserved.

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