Sloth Bears – Pioneers of the Palette

October 16, 2020 | By Wildlife SOS

Sloth bears spend much of their lives forging and rooting around the landscape of their native jungles looking for hidden treats to fill their bellies. And while they are a true bear (Order Carnivora) they very seldom eat meat.

We bring to you the delicious food enjoyed by wild sloth bears and rescued sloth bears!
We bring to you the delicious food enjoyed by wild sloth bears and rescued sloth bears! [Photo (C) Wildlife SOS/Shresatha Pachori]

However, like many other bears, they are a generalist and will eat many different things. Here is a list of five of their favourite foods to eat in the wild, and five of their favourite foods to eat in the Wildlife SOS sanctuaries. 

Delicacies in the Wild

Termites and Ants – a staple of wild sloth bears, termites and ants make up roughly half of their diet. These dexterous bears use their long, sharp claws to dig into insect mounds and suck the termites out like a vacuum. Termites and ants are a great source of protein, which sloth bears need since they seldom eat meat.

One of our rescued sloth bears hits jackpot on a tree bark with ants!
One of our rescued sloth bears hits jackpot on a tree bark with ants! [Photo (C) Wildlife SOS/Shresatha Pachori]

Dung Beetle Larva – Doesn’t that sound delicious? Dung beetle larva are often encased in a ball of dung under the earth. Sloth bears can easily sniff out these dung balls and crack them open to eat the larva inside. What a tasty treat indeed! Interestingly enough, they are the only mammals to do this.

Dung beetle is quite the delicacy for sloth bears in the wild!
Dung beetle is quite the delicacy for sloth bears in the wild! [Photo (C) Pixabay]

Honey and Honeycombs – What bear does not enjoy honey? Sloth bears absolutely relish their honey and will climb trees and suffer bee stings to get to it. But did you know that while sloth bear’s scientific name is generally accepted as Ursus ursinus, they used to be placed in their own Genus Melursus. ‘Mel’ is from the Latin for honey, and of course ‘Ursus’ is bear. That’s right folks, the sloth bear is the original ‘Honey Bear’.

Honey pasted on tree barks is enjoyed by our rescued sloth bears as well!
Honey pasted on tree barks is enjoyed by our rescued sloth bears as well! [Photo (C) Wildlife SOS/Shresatha Pachori]

Jackfruit – Sloth bears go out of their way for this fruit which grows wild in India and is from the fig, mulberry and breadfruit family. It is a large bumpy green fruit on the outside and can be pulled apart into delicious pieces. Since the fruit is large sloth bears can really fill their bellies!

Just like elephants, sloth bears also love jackfruits!
Just like elephants, sloth bears also love jackfruits! [Photo (c) Pixabay]

Peanuts – While peanuts are not native to India, they are cultivated there and sloth bears have really developed a taste for them. Although sloth bears do not raid a lot of crops, they will raid peanut (otherwise known as ground nut) farms. They dig the peanuts up and happily munch on them. Peanuts are high in protein and taste delicious, as you may agree.

Delicacies in the Wildlife SOS Sanctuaries

Watermelon – Snack time at the centres is synonymous with watermelons! The bears go absolutely wild as a vehicle full of watermelons pulls into the centre. The bear care staff strategically suspend them from the tree branches or place them on wooden platforms so the bears have to work for their treat. Our food motivated bears are more than happy to climb trees or do whatever they need to in order to get to their favourite fruit!

Our bear care staff cutting up some fresh watermelons for our sloth bears!
Our bear care staff cutting up some fresh watermelons for our sloth bears! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Porridge – The cooks at the centres are up before daybreak to prepare delicious porridge for our resident bears. Its is quite a sight to behold, as the sloth bears literally line up at their dens to enjoy their heart breakfast. They slurp the porridge with gusto and they can finish a large bowl in seconds! Once their belly is full it’s time for a nap in one of the hammocks. 

Gail, one of our rescued sloth bears rescued from the Kalandars, slurping piping hot porridge!
Gail, one of our rescued sloth bears rescued from the Kalandars, slurping piping hot porridge! [Photo (C) Wildlife SOS/Shresatha Pachori]

Popsicles – Fruity popsicle are a much sought after treat at the bear sanctuaries during the hot summer months. We often find our bears cooling off with frozen fruits chunks while sitting by the poolside.

The perfect antidote to the blistering summers in North India - fruit popsicles!
The perfect antidote to the blistering summers in North India – fruit popsicles! [Photo (C) Wildlife SOS/Shresatha Pachori]

Roti – Roti (or chappati) is a very simple type of flat bread made from  wheat flour and water. The bears love it and who doesn’t like a little bread with their meal?

After slurping up honey, our bears love to take a nap on the same branch!
After slurping up honey, our bears love to take a nap on the same branch! [Photo (C) Wildlife SOS/Shresatha Pachori]

Honey, Jackfruit and Other Wild Foods – You can take the bear out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the bear! Therefore, a large part of their diet comprises of food that they would be eating if they were still in the wild.  We also, set up insect mounds in the bear enclosures so they can always snack on some fine grub!

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