The Sri Lankan Sloth Bear
Melursus ursinus inornatus
Our main focus however is going to be on a very unique and fluffy creature much loved by all visitors to Yala, whose presence is hard to ignore in this time of fruity abundance. It is none other than the Sri Lanka Sloth Bear and yes, for those of you who do not know, we have the all-famous Baloo residing in Yala National Park!
You have probably heard of many different types of bears, but the existence of a sloth bear might come as a surprise to some. If you’re wondering if it has any relation to a sloth I can tell you that it doesn’t, in fact, sloth bears evolved from ancestral brown bears during the Pleistocene, also known as the last Ice Age, however, European zoologists did initially think that this ball of fur was indeed a giant sloth due to its shaggy coat and 3 inch long claws!
Sloth bears are one of the most unique bear species in the world, not just because of their fun hairdos but due to the most unique adaptations they possess to survive in the wild. Bears around the world are specialized for eating different things from fish to bamboo, they are equipped with deadly weaponry for hunting and climbing trees but sloth bears especially the ones here in Yala specialize in eating termites, other insects and you guessed it, fruits! They can cup their lips over an opening due to a lack of front teeth allowing their mouth to act as a suction cup, this means that termites and ants have no escape from this hairy vacuum cleaner, and in one sitting they can consume up to 10,000 termites. They have an extraordinary sense of smell allowing them to find their food by smelling trails of ants, the nests of termites, honeycombs, and even carrion which is another source of food for this omnivorous bear.
The most important thing to note is the fact that it’s the fruiting season and our furry friends, although meant to be nocturnal can be found foraging in broad daylight for their sugary fix. At times they might overindulge resulting in a slight change in their behavior and you might find a lazy bear on a tree branch or the side of a road because Mother Nature’s recipes can be a little too strong, making for a rather comical sight!
Let’s not forget their claws I mentioned previously, these weapons of destruction help these bears to break open termite mounds and climb up trees with little effort. Even at an early stage in life, bear cubs cling to their mothers’ fur as she consistently gives them piggyback rides, so it’s all aboard the bear coach until they’re old enough to run from danger themselves.
Another important fact to note is that we have our own unique subspecies of Sloth bears, it is endemic to this island and evolved in isolation from the sloth bears found in the rest of the Indian sub-continent.
You have probably guessed why these individuals have acquired such names, and yes Limpy has a limp that gives some extra wiggle to his gait, sloth bears, in general, have a rather odd way of walking as they keep their claws inward, protecting their sharpness which is necessary for their way of life to get access to food and defend themselves which is how scar face got his name as he got swiped across the face, not once but multiple times, possibly from a rival bear.
Despite these injuries, these resilient creatures have proven their ability to endure pain and recover from serious injuries and still grace us with their powerful presence. Yes, they may seem like giant teddy bears putting on a show but the high level of habituation they exhibit is only proof of their confidence and strength which we can only admire and appreciate from a safari jeep with our fantastic guides to teach you more about these incredible creatures
So join us this season as we scan the bush from the ground up to find the Sloth Bear and of course a Leopard and Elephants too along with multiple other species I didn’t mention but let’s keep that as a surprise.
Anjallee Prabha – Safari Guide
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