The Bear found in Sri Lanka (Melursus ursinus inornatus) is a subspecies of the Sloth Bear and is endemic to the country. The Sri Lankan Sloth Bear is stocky in build covered with long black shaggy fur and long hair around its neck; the adult male weighs about 140kg and is typically about 3 ft high at the shoulders and about six ft long, while the female weighing about 95kg is slightly smaller in size and stature. Each paw of the bear has soft pads with long non-retractable curved claws that can grow as long as 4 inches. It also has a long blackish white muzzle, protruding lips, long tongue, bony palate and no front teeth, all of which aids in feeding on termites and ants.
The Sri Lankan Sloth Bear is found mainly living in the lowland dry forests and the rain forest in the western slopes of the central hills and is considered a threatened species with a population of less than 1000 (estimated to be as little as 500). This is mainly due to the destruction of the natural forest, an essential habitat of the Sloth Bear.
The Sri Lankan Sloth Bears are omnivores who feed on almost anything like plants, animals and insects; nevertheless being agile tree climbers their favourite diet includes fruit, bees honey and termites, most often found high-up on trees. They are mostly nocturnal and are best spotted early in the morning or late evening. It is known that Sloth Bears have very poor eyesight and hearing but an excellent sense of smell.
Sloth Bears are known to be solitary by nature, except females with cubs and on rare occasions the both male and female accompany their cubs. The Sri Lankan Sloth Bear mates all year round, with the female’s gestation period lasting 210 days, when it gives birth to not more than two or three blind cubs. After a period of about 30 days, these cubs are able to move about with their parents, most often clinging on to the mother’s back. They live with the parent/s for close to 2-3 years before they move out on their own.
The Sloth Bear is considered to be the most dangerous animal to encounter in a forest as they are wary of humans and will attack if their territory is trespassed. The Sloth Bear is known to make grunts and snorts and sucks its paws emitting distinctively different sounds that convey emotions such as anger, impatience, happiness and even bliss after a heavy meal. Wasgamuwa National Park has recorded the highest concentration of Sloth Bears and visitors have a good chance of seeing them in their natural habitat.