The Photogenic Sri Lankan Sloth Bear

In a real “messy hair don’t care” angle, the Sri Lankan sloth bear looks like it just got out of bed after a night out in the jungle; it ambles around Sri Lanka’s dry zone wooded areas in a shaggy coat, in search of food. They usually keep to themselves, often found grunting and snorting nosily, with its nose to the ground, while walking in search of food. The sloth bears’ main diet consists of termites and ants, however, being omnivores, they feed on almost anything from plants and animals, to fruit and insects.

As these bears are mostly nocturnal, the best time to spot them would be early morning or late evening. The Sri Lankan Sloth Bear’s habitat is in the lowland dry forests and the rainforests in the western slopes, and is considered a threatened species with a declining population of less than 1000 – this is mainly due to deforestation.

On April 2019, our Mahoora guests on a Yala National Park Safari had quite the photo opportunity with one Sloth Bear in particular. Piumal, our safari driver and myself started our late afternoon safari at Yala National Park at 2.30 pm. Our US safari guests were armed with DSLR’s ready to capture Sri Lankan wildlife. As we entered the Park and travelled down towards “Warahana”, a famous spot for leopard sightings, we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a large elephant family, with 7 – 8 making up the herd! Only after we reached “Wal-malkema”, an area with a rocky pond about 13 – 15 feet deep, we met our shaggy friend.

Just after the inter-monsoon, this pond fills up and becomes a popular haunt for wildlife. Proving my point, our Sri Lankan Baloo of Yala was found sheepishly ambling towards the pond. He stops in his tracks and, perhaps, as if intentionally, poses for the camera! He then retreats into the jungle. As he disappeared into the thicket, Piumal told us to give the bear a few more minutes. Perhaps he needed to powder his nose? Lo and behold, he was back, but emerged from a different path and angle (probably wanted us to get his good side). The bear clambered up a rock and followed it into the pond. Not a bad photography session for a single Yala Safari!

Sloth Bears are known to have limited hearing and sight, but their excellent sense of smell and photogenic playfulness make them a real gem on any safari!

By Puwathara Jayawardena, Mahoora Senior Naturalist


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