Sloth Bears a.k.a Labiated Bears inhabit not so wast territories in India’s and Srilanka’s dry forests. It s believed that the bear used to have a larger area of inhabitation but hunting and cutting down forests done by locals has driven it to a small secluded area. Because of the frequent prey to hunters, the species is considered vulnerable to extinction. The Labiated Bear was also often to be seen in the streets in India as a tamed entertaining animal who was taught to do all kinds of tricks and dances. Fortunately the interest in such entertainment has faded in most of the cities. Although the animal is considered vulnerable to extinction the number of them living in the wild is not known.
Those bears are relatively small ( compared to Grizzlies). They are usually 60 – 90 centimeters tall (2 – 3 ft), 150 – 180 centimeters long (5 – 6 ft) and weigh up to 140 kilos (310 lb). Sloth Bears reach sexual maturity at the age of three and usually give birth to two cubs. Although the bears are solitary animals, the mothers look after the cubs till they are two or three years old. Oddly the cubs keep the custom to climb on their mother’s back when they are in danger till just before they leave her custody.
A Sloth Bear cub
When the cubs become independent they also start looking for food on their own and also for a mate. The bear has poor vision and hearing but has excellent sense of smell. This helps to find the various ingredients of the bear’s diverse diet. It includes termites, fruit, ants, bees and just as Winnie the Pooh is passionate about honey. Although the bear enjoys eating different stuff, the most popular meal is termites. As the termite hills are usually quite hard, the bear takes a different approach from Antbears who stick their tongues in the hill. The Sloth Bears just smash the insects’ building and when the inner wall is breached suck the ants out. Animal enthusiasts have noticed that you can hear the bears sucking from 200 meters away. The organs of the bear have differentiated to be just perfect for this job. Their noses are very long and can be moved. The bear can also close his nostrils so that he doesn’t get termites in his lungs. The lips can be moved to fit a hole in the termite building and the tongue is quite long so that Sloth Bears can use it as a straw, differently from Ant Bears who have sticky tongues.
A Sloth Bear in captivity
Another interesting fact is that rural Indians make palm wine by putting containers high in the treetops and waiting till juice from special cuts in the tree fills up the containers. It gets some alcohol content already while it’s up in the trees in the containers and the Labiated bears enjoy climbing up the trees and drinking some of the wine, to be seen behaving erratically and having hangovers the next morning.