Lee Richardson Zoo

Sloth Bear

Order:  Carnivora - felines, canines, bears, raccoons, ring-tailed cats, mustelids, seals, sea lions, walrus, etc.
Family:  Ursidae – bears

Scientific name:  Melursus ursinus (sometimes classified in Ursus genus)


DescriptionA small, stocky bear measuring 4 to 6 feet long and up to 3 feet tall at the shoulder.  The coat is long and shaggy, primarily black, brown or reddish in color with a white U or Y shape on the chest, and a light colored muzzle with shorter, reduced hair.  Adults are usually 120 to 300 pounds.  Males tend to be larger than females.

Home RangeSri Lanka and India extending north to the Himalayan foothills.


Habitat typePrimarily low altitude dry forests and grasslands.  Can also live in wetter forests and moderate altitudes.


Reproductive habits: Sloth bears reach sexual maturity at 3 to 4 years of age.  Depending on the climate they will breed year round or only in May and June.  Gestation is between 6 and 7 months and sloth bears almost always give birth to their young in December or January.  Implantation of embryos fertilized earlier in the year is often delayed.  These bears are often solitary but occasionally form small groups.  Solitary individuals will come together for 1 or 2 days for breeding during which time they will engage in boisterous displays of hugging and play fighting with considerable vocalizations.

Litters usually consist of one or two cubs who are born blind.  Sloth bear mothers carry their young on their backs for the first several months – a behavior that is unique among bears.  Cubs will remain with their mother for 2-3 years, when they are nearly mature.


Diet in WildTermites, other insects, honey, eggs, fruits and vegetables, scavenged meat.


Diet in ZooDry dog food, prepared k-9 (carnivore) diet, and a variety of produce.


General InfoSloth bears’ mouths are specially designed for their termite diet.  They have flexible protruding lips and lack upper incisors, allowing their mouth to become an efficient sucking mechanism to extract termites from their mounds.  It is thought that the closable nostrils and relatively hairless snout are an adaptation for eating termites as well, acting as a defense against the termites’ sticky secretions.  The sucking and blowing sounds of a sloth bear eating termites can be heard from up to 330 feet away.

Sloth bears do not hibernate (or enter a hibernation-like state) due to their warm climate.  They are generally nocturnal but may be active during the day as well.  When living in small groups sloth bears have been known to communicate with one another via a series of facial contortions and vocalizations.

The animals got their name in the 1700s when the hide of a dead sloth bear was brought to Europe with a description that the animal had a long “trunk-like” snout and was often found hanging upside down from tree branches.   From this information it was assumed to be a type of sloth and named as a “Bear Sloth”.  In 1810 a live specimen was brought to Paris, identified as a bear and renamed Sloth Bear.


Predators: Tigers and possibly Leopards.


Conservation Status:  Sloth bears are listed on the Red List as Vulnerable and Appendix l of CITES.  Major threats are habitat loss and poaching.



Bears of the World.  Terry Domico.  Facts on File, New York.  1988.  pp. 101-105.


Bears – Majestic Creatures of the Wild.  Ian Stirling.  Rodale Press, Pennsylvania.  1993.  p. 42.


Smithsonian Institution Animal – The Definitive Visual Guide to the World’s Wildlife.  D Burnie and D E Wilson.  DK Publishing, New York.  2001.  p. 190.