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Melursus ursinus

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA MAMMALIA CARNIVORA URSIDAE

Scientific Name: Melursus ursinus
Species Authority: (Shaw, 1791)
Common Name/s:
English Sloth Bear
French Ours prochile lippu, Ours lippu de l'Inde
Spanish Oso Perezoso

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2cd+4cd; C1 ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor/s: Garshelis, D.L., Ratnayeke S. & Chauhan, N.P.S. (IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group)
Reviewer/s: McLellan, B.N. & Garshelis, D.L. (Bear Red List Authority)
Contributor/s: The following people assisted with range mapping: Akhtar, N., Bargali, H., Chauhan, N.P.S., Choudhury, Islam, A., Joshi, A., Ratnayeke, S., Sarker, S. & Wijeyamohan, S.
Justification:
Although no truly reliable large-scale population estimates exist for sloth bears, best guesstimates indicate a reasonable possibility of there being ~20,000 or fewer animals, and thus <10,000 adult animals. Moreover, strong evidence of their range reduction suggests that their population has declined by 30-49% over the past 30 years largely as a result of habitat loss, and to some extent from exploitation for parts, or systematic elimination as a pest. The recent probable extirpation of sloth bears in Bangladesh highlights serious concerns over persistence of small, isolated sloth bear populations elsewhere in their range, especially in unprotected areas. They are particularly vulnerable to loss of habitat because of their reliance on lowland areas, which tend to be the places most readily used by people. Poaching and trade in sloth bears or their parts is also common in many parts of their range, including the capture and removal of cubs from the wild. Given the lack of effective measures to control the rate of habitat loss and exploitation, sloth bear populations are expected to continue declining.
History:
1996 Vulnerable
1994 Vulnerable (Groombridge 1994)
1990 Vulnerable (IUCN 1990)
1988 Indeterminate (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
1986 Indeterminate (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Sloth bears are present in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan. Until recently they were also known to occur in Bangladesh, but their continued existence there is uncertain: the last documented records are from the late 1990s. In historic times, sloth bears never ranged further west than Gujarat, India, and probably no further east than the states of northeastern India, although some unverified reports suggested that they once occurred in the southwestern corner of present day Myanmar (Erdbrink 1953). Although still widely present in its former range, its distribution is now highly fragmented.
Countries:
Native:
Bhutan; India; Nepal; Sri Lanka
Possibly extinct:
Bangladesh
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: A mark-resight based population estimate is available for one park in Nepal; density was estimated at 27 bears/100 km² for the whole park, and as high as 72 bears /100 km² in a core area (Garshelis et al. 1999a). Other population estimates (guesstimates) exist for many other parks and reserves, but these were based on uncertain methodology (mainly just expert opinion gleaned from interviews and questionnaires). Good information is available on area of occupied range in India (Chauhan 2006, Yoganand et al. 2006), Nepal (Garshelis et al. 1999a), and Sri Lanka (Ratnayeke et al. 2006). Some attempts have been made to apply estimated densities in various protected areas to occupied area to obtain a rangewide population estimate. Depending on methods and data employed in this process, rangewide estimates vary from 20,000 (Garshelis et al. 1999b, Chauhan 2006, Yoganand et al. 2006). None of these estimates are considered reliable enough to track changes in population size.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Sloth bears subsist primarily on termites, ants, and fruits. This is the only species of bear adapted specifically for myrmecophagy (ant and termite-eating; Garshelis et al. 1999b, Sacco and Van Valkenburgh 2004). The ratio of insects to fruits in the diet varies seasonally and geographically (Baskaran et al. 1997, Joshi et al. 1997, Bargali et al. 2004, Sreekumar and Balakrishnan 2002).

Sloth bears occupy a wide range of habitats on the Indian mainland including wet or dry tropical forests, savannas, scrublands, and grasslands (Joshi et al. 1995, Sreekumar and Balakrishnan 2002, Akhtar et al. 2004, Ratnayeke et al. in press). They are primarily a lowland species. Most sloth bear range in India and Nepal is limited to habitats below 1,500 m, although the species may occur as high as 2,000 m in the forests of the Western Ghats (Johnsingh 2003). In Sri Lanka, sloth bears are confined to the remaining dry forests in the north and eastern parts of the island, mostly below 300 m (Ratnayeke et al. 2006). In areas where cover is sparse, and where daytime temperatures are high (a large part of the range), the bear is largely nocturnal or crepuscular and will shelter in rock outcrops, thickets, and tree cavities during the heat of the day. Although sloth bears may be active during the day in protected areas, they tend to be almost exclusively nocturnal in disturbed and fragmented forests interspersed with human habitations (Akhtar et al. 2004).

Studies in Nepal and Sri Lanka suggest that sloth bears avoid areas where human disturbance is high, so crop depredation by sloth bears is typically rare (Joshi et al. 1995, Ratnayeke et al. in press). Conversely, in some parts of India, sloth bears routinely raid peanut, maize, and fruit crops (e.g., Changani 2002). Chauhan (2006) suggests that such crop depredations may occur because these habitats are severely affected by human exploitation, including the extraction of several food sources for bears.

Sloth bears typically breed during June-July, and females give birth, usually to one or two cubs, during November –January (Laurie and Seidensticker 1977, Joshi et al. 1999, Chauhan et al. 2003). Cubs typically ride on the mother’s back during their first nine months, presumably to reduce the risk of predation. Cubs remain with their mothers for 1.5–2.5 years.
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Major threats to this species are habitat loss and poaching (Johnsingh 2003, Chauhan 2006). Habitat has been lost, degraded, and fragmented by overharvest of forest products (timber, fuel wood, fodder, fruits, honey), establishment of monoculture plantations (e.g., teak, eucalyptus), settlement of refugees, and expansion of agricultural areas, human settlements, and roads (Santiapillai and Santiapillai 1990). Poaching, mainly for the commercial trade in bear parts, has been reported (Servheen 1990, Garshelis et al. 1999b), but its current extent and impact on bear populations is uncertain. Poaching also occurs for local use (e.g., male reproductive organs used as aphrodisiac; bones, teeth and claws used to ward off evil spirits; bear fat used for native medicine and hair regeneration; Santiapillai and Santiapillai 1990, Chauhan 2006). Capture of live cubs for use as "dancing bears" remains a significant threat in some parts of the range (Seshamani and Satyanarayan 1997). Also, in some parts of the range, encounters between people and sloth bears have led to numerous human injuries and many deaths (Rajpurohit and Krausman 2000, Bargali et al. 2005, Chauhan 2006). Such incidents tend to occur where people frequently use bear habitat, and where the habitat has thus become severely degraded. Bears that attack or threaten to attack people may be destroyed.

The only natural threats to sloth bears are tigers (Panthera tigris) and possibly leopards (P. pardus). In fact, the threat of tiger predation may account for the very aggressive nature of sloth bears (Joshi et al. 1999). Sloth bears have been observed fending off approaches by tigers, but they have also occasionally been observed as a prey item of tigers (e.g., Gopal 1991).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Sloth bears are reported to exist in 174 Protected Areas in India, which include 46 National Parks and 128 Wildlife Sanctuaries (Chauhan 2006). Populations appear to be reasonably well protected inside these PAs, but faced with deteriorating habitat conditions outside PAs (Santiapillai and Santiapillai 1990, Akhtar et al. 2006). Reduced cover and food resources outside PAs (Akhtar et al. 2004) have led to increased bear–human conflicts, including frequent maulings (Bargali et al. 2005). It is estimated that half to two-thirds of the sloth bears in India live outside protected areas. About half the occupied range in Sri Lanka is outside protected areas (Ratnayeke et al. 2006).

Sloth bears are listed in Appendix I of CITES and are completely protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. They are also protected to varying degrees by national laws in the other range countries. However, they can be killed to protect life or property. Given the aggressive nature of this animal, and the increasing number of encounters between bears and people, these bears are widely feared. Although education may help to reduce bear-human conflicts and enhance a conservation ethic among locals, the root of the problem is largely related to deteriorating habitat, which increases the chance of interaction between people and bears. Thus, habitat improvements (government or community-based reforestation) would be helpful in alleviating such conflicts.
Citation: Garshelis, D.L., Ratnayeke S. & Chauhan, N.P.S. (IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group) 2008. Melursus ursinus. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 19 April 2014.
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