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Sloth Bear - Species Detail
Oso bezudo, Labiado (Sp), Lippenbär, Faulbär (G), Ours à longues lèvres, Ours jongleur (F). Locally called aswal (Mahrathi), or bhalu (Hindustani). "Sloth bear" is because of its slow, shambling gait. The former generic name Melursus is from the Latin mel (honey) and ursus (bear), because of its fondness for honey.
DESCRIPTION Head and body length 4-1/2 to 6 feet (1.4 to 1.8 cm). Tail length 4-5 inches (10.0 to 12.5 cm). Shoulder height 24-36 inches (61-91 cm). Weight 120-320 pounds (54-145 kg).
A shaggy, untidy-looking bear with an oddlyshaped face. Normally black, but cinnamon and red individuals have been seen. The snout is a dirty gray, and there is a distinctive white or yellow marking on the chest that is shaped like a "V" or "Y." The coat is long and shaggy, with the hairs longest between the shoulders. The sloth bear is a specialized termite eater. Its claws are large and powerful; the hairless lips are protrusible and mobile; the nostrils can be closed; the inner pair of upper incisors is missing, so that there is a gap in the front teeth; and the palate is hollowed. These features enable the bear to dig up a termite nest, blow off the dirt, and "vacuum" up the termites. This noisy action can be heard for over 200 yards (185 m), and often betrays it to hunters.
BEHAVIOR May be solitary, in pairs, or a female with her cubs. Mates throughout the year in Sri Lanka, and mainly during June in India, with one or two cubs (rarely three) born 6-7 months later in a ground shelter. They remain with the mother until almost full grown (2-3 years), riding on her back until they become too heavy. Captives have lived as long as 40 years.
Mainly nocturnal, although may be active at any hour. Not known to hibernate, but in cool weather it spends the day in thick cover or caves. Sense of smell is good, but eyesight and hearing are poor. Termites are its most important food, but also eats other insects, honey, fruit, flowers, grass, eggs and carrion. Generally timid and retiring, but occasionally makes ferocious unprovoked attacks on humans, inflicting terrible wounds, usually on the head and face. Such attacks usually occur when the bear is suddenly surprised and unable to decide how to escape, for its wits are as dull as its eyesight and hearing.
HABITAT Forests, both moist and dry, especially where there are rocky outcroppings.
DISTRIBUTION India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
REMARKS Hunted by tracking, which is easiest during September and October when the grass is dewy; by driving with beaters; or by discovering its lair and waiting through the night for it to return just after dawn.
TAXONOMIC NOTES Two subspecies are listed: inornatus (Sri Lanka) and ursinus (the rest of the species range). We do not separate them.
STATUS The Indian population is listed on Appendix I of CITES (1990). Extensively hunted by locals, who consider it a dangerous crop raider. It seems intolerant of human disturbance, and is losing habitat to farming, logging and settlement. However, it is not believed to be in any immediate danger.
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