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SLOTH BEAR – The distinctly shaped sloth bear with its black shaggy coat and heavy build is often spotted in several of Sri Lanka’s National Parks where there is undisturbed forest growth, especially in Yala and Wilpattu. Found exclusively in the Indian Subcontinent, the sloth bear has evolved from the Eurasian Brown Bear over several millennia.

Sloth Bears are insect-eating mammals and have a specially adapted lower lip and palate for gathering their food. They mainly consume termites, bee hives, and fruits, and can be heard from a distance of 100 metres (300 feet) away as they ‘slurp’ up their food. They are known to hunt smaller mammals as well.

Sloth Bears are similar in a way to Sun Bears in that they often have a distinctive pale yellow V-shaped marking on their chests. They are also the bears to display the longest tails, some of which can grow up to 7 inches in length. Although they walk in an unhurried rambling fashion, Sloth Bears can run faster than humans, and despite looking clumsy in every way, are adept tree climbers. Primarily nocturnal creatures, the Sri Lankan Sloth Bear can be seen out at both dawn and dusk in several of the country’s national parks.

Sloth Bears are not a very common sight owing to their tendency to shy away from humans. May/June is the best season to see Sloth Bears in Yala and Wilpattu National Parks, as they climb large palu (Manilkara hexandra) trees to feast on its sweet nourishing fruit. Guests who stay at Big Game Camps in Yala and Wilpattu might get a chance to see sloth bears even outside of the palu season.

Human encroachment into Sri Lanka’s forested areas alongside drastic deforestation are the main threats to the Sri Lankan Sloth Bear, and as scientific data into the habits of a Sloth Bear is limited, it is vital that Sri Lanka’s recognition of its many natural wonders stays in continuity. Preservation and conservation of the Sloth Bear’s habitat must continue in order for Sri Lanka to be able to be proud of its unique and endemic species of Sloth Bear.

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