India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan


Dry forest, grasslands, and thorn scrub

It’s a what?

Sloth bears are a bit misleading by name. They are not related to sloths, and they are not slow moving. In fact, they’re fairly agile bears that can run faster than a human and have been known to attack when surprised.

It was a European zoologist, George Shaw, who named the sloth bear for its extremely long, thick claws and unusual teeth. He thought that the bear must be related to the tree sloth due to these features. Sloth bears have also been seen hanging upside down on tree branches, much like a tree sloth.

Y-O-U: Not the average bear

The sloth bear is a bit messy in appearance. It has long, rough, unruly hair around its ears, shoulders, and neck that is cinnamon to dark brown in color. The pale muzzle, usually white, and a flexible nose sniff out interesting smells. The sloth bear has a white patch of fur on its chest in the shape of a "Y," "O," or "U."

With a short, stocky body and powerful legs, this medium-size bear is actually surprisingly good at climbing trees. Its claws cannot be pulled in like a cat's, so the sloth bear looks fairly awkward when walking.

Talk about noisy! Sucking sounds the sloth bear makes while eating can be heard up to 330 feet (100 meters) away.
Sloth bears are the only bear species that carry their young around on their back.
It was believed that a sloth bear was being aggressive and threatening when it stood up on its hind feet, but often the bears are just getting a better view and checking the air for whiffs of food or danger.

In 1985, the San Diego Zoo celebrated the birth of the first sloth bear in the Western Hemisphere. A name-the-bear contest was held, with over 14,000 entries! The winning name was Deva, a Sri Lankan name that means Indian princess.

Currently, there are no sloth bears at the San Diego Zoo, as our male, Ken, is on a breeding loan at another zoo facility.

Slippery slope
Currently, the sloth bear remains vulnerable. This, in large part, is due to poaching. Sloth bear gall bladders are believed by some cultures to cure certain illnesses, which is not true. Habitat destruction also plays a major role in the decline of sloth bears in Asia.

And many humans believe that sloth bears are aggressive and one of the most dangerous animals in central India; in fact, people go out of their way to find and kill the innocent bears.
This is unfortunate, because sloth bears are typically shy and are aggressive only when startled or confronted. Even though a hunting ban is in place, cubs are still captured and forced to perform for the Qalandars, who earn their living by making the bears "dance" for audiences.

One small step for sloth bears
Sloth bears play an important role in their habitats as seed dispersers. San Diego Zoo Global started studying the sloth bear to learn more about its behavior and needs. This unique bear is worth saving, and every measure you take is one small step for the sloth bear but a big step toward saving the planet and the animals that inhabit it.

Join us!
You can help us bring sloth bears and other species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.