Fast Facts

Length:1.4–1.9 meters
Weight:80–175 kg (176–386 lbs) for male, 55–95 kg (121–209 lbs) for females
Lifespan:25–28 in the wild; up to 40 years in captivity
Distribution:India, Sri Lanka, southern belt of Nepal, and rare in Bhutan
Status:Vulnerable (IUCN) – IUCN 2016; Appendix I (CITES)


Species:Melursus ursinus Shaw 1971

Common Names

English:Sloth bear, Honey bear, Labiated bear, Lip beara
Hindi:Reech, Bhalu, Adam-zada
Bhutanis:Pang dom, Donia
Sinhalese:Walaha (male), Waelahinna (female)a
Gujarati:Rinchh, Jambuvana
Sanskrit:Riksha, Bhallukaa
French:Ourslippu de l’Inde, Oursprochilelippua
Spanish:Oso Perezosoa



Sloth bears have a distinctively long, shaggy coat with no underfur [2]. The hair is especially long around the neck and the back of the head. Sloth bears are the only bear with long hair on the ears. Their fur is typically black, although individuals with brown or reddish pelage have been observed. Sloth bears have a distinctive pale whitish or cream marking on their chest that forms a U or Y shape [3]. The muzzle is long and light-color with reduced hair and lips that can be protruded or extended. It is thought that the reduced hair on the muzzle may be an adaptation for coping with the defensive secretions of termites [4]. Sloth bears have a broad palate and lack the upper two middle incisors, which are all specializations for eating ants and termites from the ground or termite mounds. The sloth bear is unique among bears as it has only 40 adult teeth. The cubs have 42 teeth while nursing. When feeding, sloth bears make loud, sucking sounds that can be heard from a great distance. Generally males are larger in size than females. Sloth bears have long (6–8cm), slightly curved, ivory-color front claws for digging [5] and shorter hind claws.


Total body length (cm)Wt (kg)
Body length
Tail lengthPaw
150–190 7–12Fore: L: 20, W: 13
Hind: L: 20, W: 11
Male: 80–140
Female: 55–95


Sloth bears are mostly solitary except for females with their cubs. Sloth bears tend to be more active during the night and cooler parts of the day in protected areas; however, in disturbed and fragmented forests interspersed with human habitations they are almost exclusively nocturnal [6]. In non-protected areas where cover is sparse and in areas where daytime temperatures are high, the sloth bear is largely nocturnal or crepuscular and will shelter in rock outcrops, thickets, and tree cavities during the heat of the day. Adults are generally active throughout the day and night, except for females with cubs, which seem to avoid activity in daylight [7].

During the breeding season, a number of males will follow a receptive female for several days, mating with her in turn with little inter-male aggression [5]. Sloth bears mate during the hot season in May, June, and July, and cubs are usually born September–November. On average, two or occasionally three cubs are born in protected dens. Females remain in the den for 2–3 months and rarely come out, even to eat. Cubs are routinely carried on the mother’s back from the time they leave the den until they are about nine months old, which seems to be the main defense for cubs against attacks by predators such as tigers (Panthera tigris) and leopards (P. pardus). Cubs stay with their mothers for 1.5–2 years and leave just before the breeding season.

Sloth bears are unique amongst bears in that the majority of their diet is composed of insects, particularly termites and ants [5]. Breaking open a termite mound with its strong front claws, the sloth bear then inserts its muzzle and blow away earth and dust before sucking the termites into its mouth. The lack of upper incisors creates a channel through which the bear sucks insects, and they are able to voluntarily close their nostrils, which prevents the inhalation of dust [5].

Reproduction and lifespana

Gestation (months)Average litter sizeLifespan (years)
JuvenileAdultMaximum age


Mating system: Unknown 
Breeding interval: 2–3 years 
Breeding season: May–June [8], with litter November–January[8] 
Independence: 2 [8]

Population Status

Attempts have been made to apply estimated densities in various protected areas to all occupied areas, in order to obtain a range-wide population estimate for sloth bears. Depending on methods and data employed in this process, range-wide estimates have varied from <10,000 to >20,000. None of these estimates are considered reliable enough to track changes in population size, especially since the total range area is not well defined. Estimates for individual Indian states are also not reliable enough to track population trends. Sloth bears are extirpated from Bangladesh, and there are no records of sloth bears in Bhutan after 2009. The overall population trend is decreasing [8, 9].

Population estimatesa

Total estimated population size10000+
Sri Lanka800–1000
BhutanNo record after 2009

a Exact population estimates are not available [4]

Distribution and Range

The sloth bear is endemic to the Indian subcontinent [10, 11, 12]. Sloth bears are present in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and possibly Bhutan. In India, sloth bears are distributed from the southern tip of the Western Ghats Mountains to the foothills of the Himalayas [5]. Sloth bears have never been observed to range further west than Gujarat, India, and probably no further east than the states of northeastern India [13]. In northeast India, sloth bears are distributed throughout the plains of Brahmaputra and Bharak Valleys of Assam and the adjacent foothills and Plateau of Karbi Anglong and Meghalaya [2]. Sloth bears in Nepal are mainly restricted to the Terai, the southern strip of lowland forest and grasslands bordering with India. In Bhutan, sloth bears similarly occur in lowland forests and grasslands along its southern border with India. Sloth bears were reported in Bangladesh as late as the 1990s, but are probably extinct there today [14, 15].

Geographic range

Sloth Bear Distribution Map from IUCN Red List


Sloth bears are primarily a lowland species [16, 17] and are found in a wide variety of habitats on the Indian subcontinent [5, 11, 12]. On the Indian mainland, their habitat may include wet or dry tropical deciduous forests [18, 19], savannas, scrublands, grasslands [5, 6, 11, 16, 20, 21, 22], and evergreen forest [5, 16]. Most sloth bear range in India, Bhutan, and Nepal is limited to habitats below 500 m elevation, although the species may occur as high as 2000 m in the forests of the Western Ghats [23]. In Sri Lanka, sloth bears are confined to the remaining dry forests in the north and eastern parts of the island, below 300 m [24].

Home Range

Sloth bear home ranges are reported to vary according to the availability of different habitat types, food, other resources, and season. In the dry season the home range is small, and in the wet season the home range tends to be larger; however, the reverse was reported in Sri Lanka [22]. Generally, females have smaller home ranges than males. Average home range size is 9.32 km2 for males and 8.5 km2 for females [20, 22].

Home range size

Dry season (km2)

Wet season (km2)21.81.0518.20.87


Sloth bears are distributed in various kinds of habitat, and their feeding patterns differ based on the availability of food. As a result, the range of plants and animal matter they consume differ widely [10, 11] depending on the season and the area inhabited. The sloth bear is omnivorous and consumes large amounts of vegetable matter, particularly fruit [25, 26, 27]. Sloth bears rarely prey on other mammals [11, 28], but they are myrmecophagous, foraging on ants and termites [11, 29, 30]. Sloth bears also feed on honey, enduring the stings of bees to obtain honeycombs [3], as well as eggs, carrion, fruit, and other plant matter according to season. They feed on the fallen flowers of mahua (Madhuca indica) and mango, sugar cane, maize from farms, pods of Cassia fistula, and fruits of the jack tree (Artocarpus heterophyllus). Sloth bears may opportunistically feed on carrion [7]. In Gujarat, the western-most sloth bear range in India, sloth bears raid farm crops such as maize [7].


Food habitMain food itemsa
OmnivivorousZizyphus mauritiana
Ficus glomerata
Diospyros melanoxylon
Buchanania lanzan
Aegle marmelos
Lantana cámara
Grewia asiática
Grewia hirsute
Grewia tiliifolia
Cordia domestica
Syzigium cumini
Phoenix humilis
Bassia latifolia
Carrisa congesta
Cassia fistula
Cordia dichotoma
Ficus bonalysis
Cassia tora
Madhuca indica
Mangifera indica
Miliusa tomentosa
MyrmecophagousTermites: genera Macrotermes, Odontotermes, Microcerotermes, Hypotermes, and Reticulitermes
Large red ants


The principal threats to sloth bears are habitat loss and poaching [23, 32]. Poaching of sloth bears is primarily conducted for the commercial trade in bear parts. Quality habitat has been lost, degraded, and fragmented by overharvesting of forest products, expansion of agricultural areas, human settlement, building of roads, mining, and industrial development [10, 17]. In some parts of the range, human encroachment into bear habitat has resulted in increased incidences of encounters between people and sloth bears, which has led to numerous human injuries and deaths [32, 33, 34]. Such incidents tend to occur where people frequently use bear habitat or where the habitat has become severely degraded. In some parts of India, such as North Bilaspur, reduced cover and food resources outside protected areas [6] have led to increased bear–human conflicts, including frequent maulings [35]. Ultimately, bears that attack or threaten people are often destroyed.

In the past, sloth bears—especially cubs—were captured by local tribes in India called Kalandars, who trained the bears to “dance” in street performances. However, the Government of India has banned the use of sloth bears for entertainment. Several NGOs, such as Wildlife SOS and Wildlife Trust of India, have rehabilitated these bears in captivity and are assisting Kalandars with developing alternative livelihoods. As a result, the practice of dancing bears has been largely eradicated in India [9]. However, the capture of live cubs for use as dancing bears still remains a threat to the bears in parts of India.

Education about conservation and ethical treatment of animals is a means of reducing the level of human–bear conflict. To resolve this conflict, the basic issue of deteriorating habitat needs to be addressed, because it is the main cause of the conflict. This resolution could be achieved through the promotion of improvements made by government or community-based reforestation programmes [36]. Recently, India developed a National Conservation and Welfare Action Plan for Bears of India that includes recommendations for the conservation of the sloth bear and its habitat, with the goals of reducing bear–human conflicts, creating awareness, and involving local communities in bear conservation [9].

Aside from humans, natural threats to sloth bears are tigers and possibly leopards. In fact, the very aggressive nature of sloth bears may be an evolutionary adaptation to the threat of tiger predation [37]. Sloth bears are occasional prey for tigers, although they have been observed fending off approaches by these predators [25].

Conservation Status

The sloth bear is categorized as Vulnerable by IUCN (1996), and listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) [8]. The sloth bear is protected in India under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 and in Sri Lanka under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. The sloth bear is widely but patchily distributed in India with a potential distribution range of ca. 400,000 km2 spread across 19 States that would support about 20,000 bears. In 2005, sloth bears were reported to exist in 174 protected areas in India, which include 46 national parks and 128 wildlife sanctuaries [32]. Populations appear to be reasonably well protected inside the protected areas, but they face deteriorating habitat conditions outside protected areas. It is estimated that one half to two thirds of the sloth bears in India live outside protected areas. About half of their occupied range in Sri Lanka is outside protected areas [24].

Sloth Bears and Humans

The relationship of sloth bears and humans can be costly for both species. Bear–human interactions include attacks on humans and retaliatory attacks by humans. Poaching is mainly conducted for the trade in bear body parts [38], to support practices such as using male reproductive organs as aphrodisiacs, the use of bones, teeth, and claws to ward off evil spirits, and the use of bear fat for medication and hair regeneration [34]. During food shortages, sloth bears have been observed leaving their natural habitat to forage in agricultural areas, which results in crop damage and increased incidence of human–bear conflict. Alternatively, the increasing use of bear habitat by humans has also led to higher levels of human–bear conflict, injuries to humans, and many deaths [7, 33, 35, 39].


Dr. Nishith Dharaiya
Assistant Professor
Wildlife & Conservation Biology Lab
Hem. North Gujarat University
Patan (Gujarat) India-384265

Prakash Mehta
Masters Student
Environmental Science, Department of Life Sciences
Hem. North Gujarat University
Patan (Gujarat) India-384 265


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