The sloth bear is the only species in the genus Melursus. It is a nocturnal creature of South Asia. Contrary to the implication of its name, the sloth bear is truly quite fast and can outrun a human being. There are a variety of theories as to where it gets its name, including the concept that early explorers seen the bears lying upside down in trees, similar to the general appearance of sloths. In the 1700s, it was classified as being a member of the sloth family, and accordingly named as”bear sloth”. It was not until the 1800s, when the first live sloth bear arrived in Europe from India, that scientists were able to properly categorize it. Even though it can be quite ferocious, leopards, tigers, and wolves are known to predate upon it or its young. Habitat destruction and poaching constitute the primary threat to this species’ survival.
The sloth bear is a relatively small but stocky bear, draped in long, shaggy black fur. The especially long hair around its neck gives off the image that it has a mane. There’s a large white or yellow Y-shaped patch on its chest. Mature sloth bears generally weigh about 176 – 308 lbs for males and 121 – 187 pounds for females. It’s generally 4 feet 7 in to 6 ft 3 in in length.
Sloths are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of foods that include plants, insects, and animals. It’s been proven to scavenge from tiger kills and even eat cultivated plants. When eating insects, they prefer termites, using their long claws to expose the insects’ nests. And, due to their dietary fondness of honey, they also have been known as honey bears.
Sloth bears inhabit a diverse collection of forests, from dry thorn forests in the north of its range to the moist tropical forests in the south. They’re also found in grassland areas. Their range includes areas of Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan.
Based on the limited available information, sloth bears seem to mate year-round. The gestation period is about 7 months, after which time the female gives birth to 1 – 3 cubs, with 2 normally being the case.