Through the years the San Diego Zoo has had two subspecies of sloth bear. The first Zoo residents were Indian sloth bears, which arrived in 1940. In 1979, we became the only zoo in North America to house Sri Lankan sloth bears, received on exchange from the National Zoo of Sri Lanka. We welcomed the first cub of this subspecies to be born and raised in the Western Hemisphere in 1985. We held a name-the-bear contest; it received over 14,000 entries! The winning name was Deva, a Sri Lankan name that means Indian princess.
Currently, the San Diego Zoo has two sloth bear siblings that live along Center Street.
Like the other Asian bear species, we know little about sloth bear behavior and ecology. Habitat encroachment is the greatest threat to sloth bears. But illegal hunting and capture still threaten wild sloth bears. The International Bear Association works to promote sloth bear conservation in the local communities.
Currently, the sloth bear remains vulnerable. This, in large part, is due to poaching. Some people believe that sloth bear gall bladders can cure certain illnesses, which is not true. Habitat destruction also plays a major role in the decline of sloth bears in Asia.
Sloth bears kill or maim more people per year than any other type of bear. This is largely due to the fact that they live in an area where there are lots of people. Some people go out of their way to find and kill the innocent bears. This is unfortunate, because sloth bears are shy and would rather run away from human encounters. They are aggressive only when startled or confronted. Even though a hunting ban is in place, sloth bear cubs are still captured and forced to "dance" for audiences. Thanks to the tireless efforts of some nature organizations within India, this is significantly less common than it used to be.
One small step for sloth bears
Sloth bears play an important role in their habitats as seed dispersers. San Diego Zoo Global started studying sloth bears to learn more about their behavior and needs. We are partners with India’s Wildlife SOS sloth bear rescue facility, funding research and education programs.
This unique bear is worth saving! 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.
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.