Monday, July 5, 2010

Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus)

Do you know what makes a sloth bear different? The answer is food. While most bears eat anything, from berries to eggs to small animals, the small sloth mainly eats termites and ants. Sloths will break open a termite mound with its strong front claws, insert its snout, and blow away earth and dust before sucking termites into its mouth. To make it easier the bears do not have upper incisors (front teeth). This creates a hole through which they can suck up insects. Sloths are also able to close their nostrils voluntarily, which stops dust flying up their nose when they are looking for termites. The bears also have a sweet tooth – putting up with bee stings to get into hives to eat honey!

Sloths can be found across the Indian subcontinent in many different habitats – but in Sri Lanka they are only found in the north and eastern dry forests. A sloth will usually give birth to two cubs in a den at the bottom of a hollow tree. After three months the family will leave this safe place, and the cubs will ride on their mum’s back until they are about 2.5 years old, and are ready to go their own way.

What are their main threats?

1.Habitat loss. Their natural habitats are destroyed by agriculture development, building of roads and settlements and extraction of forest products such as wood, fruit and honey.

2.Poaching. In some countries sloths are hunted for cultural reasons – these include people using the bones, teeth and claws to ward off evil spirits and using their fat for native medicine and hair regeneration.

3.Capture. In some areas bear cubs are captured to be used as "dancing bears" for entertainment.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

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