Sloth Bears are on trigger for traditional medicine

The Sloth Bear, Melursus ursinus poaching and loss of this habitat and fragmentation of available habitat are considered as the major threats to the survival of the Sloth Bear on the Indian subcontinent. Humans hunt the Sloth Bear primarily for its gall bladder, which is valued in eastern medicine and trap for keeping in captivity for amusement business. As result the Sloths are already classified as a vulnerable schedule-1 animal as per WL(P)A-1972!

Sloth Bear is an arboreal, nocturnal and insectivorous species of bear restricted to the Indian subcontinent. Its local names are Rukh bhalu (Hindi, Nepalese), Bhaluk (Bengali), Karadee (Tamil), Aswal (Marathi), Pani Karudi (Malaylam) etc. The specie inhabits the lowland forests of India (from the foothills of the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, except in the western desert), Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The Sloth Bear is the only bear species classified in genus Melursus. It is found in a variety of habitats - from dry grassland to evergreen forests - but has a preference for tropical deciduous forests. Within that category, the Sloth Bear prefers dry deciduous forests and rocky outcrops to wet deciduous forests.

The body of Sloth Bear is 150–190 cm long, covered in long, shaggy fur, ranging from auburn to black, with a distinctive "V"-shaped white mark (patch) on the chest, a whitish snout and black nose. Most uncouth of all the bears, it has an elongated muzzle with bare lips and lack of upper incisors, adaptations for its insect-based diet. The hind legs are short. The front feet are turned inwards and have non-retractable, curved ivory claws, always longer than the forefeet that are adapted for digging. The males, weighing 80–140 kg, are larger than the females, which weigh only 55–95 kg. Its pugmarks are very similar to a human footprint. The tail is 15-18 cm long, the longest in the bear family. The coat has a brownish tinge, rarely wholly brown. The muzzle and tips of the feet are dirty white or yellowish in colour.

In wild, it comes out of the shelter shortly before sunset, hunts for food all the night and retires in the morning. Because of their warm native habitat, Sloth Bears do not become dormant through the winter, as some more northerly species do. The Sloth Bear does not move as slowly as a sloth, and can easily outrun a human. One theory has it that early explorers saw these bears lying upside down in trees and gave them their common name for the similarity to the way a sloth hangs in trees. Another claim that the Sloth Bear gets its name because its normal walk is more of a meandering shuffle. The shaggy coat, light-coloured muzzle and long claws are common qualities of a sloth .Adult sloth bears may travel in pairs, with the males being gentle with cubs. They walk in a slow, shambling motion, with their feet being set down in a noisy, flapping motion. They are capable of galloping faster than running humans. Although they appear slow and clumsy, sloth bears are excellent climbers. They climb to feed and rest, though not to escape enemies, as they prefer to stand their ground. They are capable of climbing on smooth surfaces and hang upside down like sloths. They are good swimmers, and primarily enter water to play. To mark their territory, sloth bears will scrape trees with their forepaws, and rub against them with their flanks. Sloth bears have a great vocal range. Sounds such as barks, screams, grunts, roars, snarls, wickers, woofs and yelps are made when angered, threatening or when fighting. When hurt or afraid, they shriek, yowl or whimper. When feeding, sloth bears make loud huffing and sucking noises, which can be heard over 100 meters away. Sounds such as gurgling or humming are made by bears resting or sucking their paws. Sows will emit crooning sounds to their cubs. The species is the most vociferous when mating, and make loud, melodious calls when doing so. Sloth bears do not hibernate. They make their day beds out of broken branches in trees, and will rest in caves during the wet season. Sloth bears are the most nocturnal of bears, though sows become more active in daytime when with cubs.

Sloth bears are expert hunters of termites, which they locate by smell. On arriving at an ant-hill, they scrape at the structure with their claws till they reach the large combs at the bottom of the galleries, and will disperse the dirt with violent puffs. The ants are then sucked up through the muzzle, producing a hoovering sound which can be heard 180 meters away. Their olfactory senses are strong enough to detect grubs three feet below ground. Unlike other bears, they do not congregate in feeding groups. They rarely prey on other mammals. Sloth bears may supplement their diet with fruit and plant matter: in March and April, they will eat the fallen petals of mowha trees and are partial to mangoes, sugar cane, and the pods of the Golden Shower Tree and the fruit of the jack-tree. Sloth bears are extremely fond of honey. When feeding their cubs, sows are reported to regurgitate a mixture of half digested jack fruit, wood apples and pieces of honey comb. This sticky substance hardens into a dark yellow circular bread-like mass which is fed to the cubs. This "bear's bread" is considered a delicacy by some of India's natives.

The breeding season for sloth bear varies according to location. In India, they mate in April, May and June and give birth in December and early January. Sows gestate for 210 days and typically give birth in caves or in shelters under boulders. Litters usually consist of 1-2 cubs, rarely 3. Cubs are born blind and open their eyes after four weeks. Sloth bear cubs develop quickly compared to most other bear species, they will start walking a month after birth, become independent at 24 -36 months, and become sexually mature at the age of 3 yrs. Young cubs ride on their mother’s back when she walks, runs or climbs tree until they reach a third of her size .Individual riding position are maintained by cubs through fighting. Intervals between litters can last 2 -3 years.

In India and Burma, sloth bears are more feared than tigers, due to their more unpredictable temperament, said to be the most aggressive and least predictable of Asian bears. In Madhya Pradesh, India, sloth bear attacks accounted for the deaths of 48 people and the injuring of 686 others during five years from 1989.

Relationship with other animals: Bengal tigers occasionally prey on sloth bear. Tiger usually give sloth bears a wide breath though some specimens become habitual bear killers. Sloth bears are sympatric to Asiatic Black Bears in northern India .These two species along with the sun bear co-exit in some national parks and wild life sanctuaries. They are also found together in Assam ,Manipur ,Mizoram ,in the hills south of the Brahmaputra river , the only area which is occupy by these three bear species. Dhol packs may attack sloth bear though they are not a usual prey item . Asian elephants do not tolerate sloth bear in their vicinity .The reason of this kind of behavior is till unknown

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