People are often surprised to learn that Sri Lanka has its own wildlife ‘big five.’ The leopard and the elephant are of course well-known, the blue and sperm whale are starting to come into the public eye, but the sloth bear remains somewhat elusive.
Many visitors to this island barely (intended pun!) know of its existence. This is perhaps because the sloth bear is notoriously difficult to spot, being mostly nocturnal and highly endangered. With the re-opening of Wilpattu National Park, however, sloth bear sightings are on the increase. This park is thought to contain the largest population of sloth bears in Sri Lanka, although little research has been done into the whereabouts of these fascinating and mysterious bears.
Individual to the Indian sub-continent, the sloth bear differs to the Asian black bear in appearance and size, and the Sri Lankan sloth bear is a subspecies which lacks the white chest of other Asian sloth bears. Rather more lanky than a black bear, and with hooked claws, patchy black fur, a long snout, and a signature shuffle, the sloth bear is well-suited to its eating habits. It uses its long claws and snout to seek, sniff, suck, and dig out insects, which form the major part of its diet.
During the summer months of June and July, the sloth bear trades in termites for fruits, feeding mostly on the seasonal palu and veera fruit which are available at this time. These months are the best times to see sloth bears, as they will occasionally venture out in the day to feast on the fruit, and there has even been reports of bears becoming intoxicated on the fruit after overfeeding!