Nature lovers who travel to India on a dedicated Tiger tour are privileged to enjoy one of the most exciting wildlife experiences available. Seeing this enigmatic and secretive big cat in its natural habitat is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But the big cat is not the only exotic animal that can be observed on a Tiger tour, and the parks and reserves are home to a profusion of other wildlife as well. |
One of the most sought after sightings is the Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus), a species native to the Indian subcontinent and found in lowland forests of India in places like the Pench, Kanha and Bandhavgarh reserves.
The bears are small to medium sized with adult males growing up to around 1.8m, with a tail measuring 7-13cms. They can weigh up to 190kg, with the average around 120kg for males and less for females. Their thick, bushy fur offers protection from insect bites but it gives them a rather unkempt appearance. Around the neck their fur is even longer, forming a ‘mane’ and they have a distinctive white v-shaped marking on their upper chest. They have a stocky body, an elongated trunk-like snout, short, strong legs and non-retractable curved white claws.
Behaviour & Diet
They lead a primarily solitary life, only coming together to mate and, while they’re generally nocturnal, the bears can also be seen during daylight hours foraging for food. Their diet consists primarily of beetle larvae, ants and termites, which they augment with roots, leaves, flowers, tubers and honey. As well as being able to rip open termite mounds and ants’ nests with their front claws, the bear’s long flexible snout and large tongue allows them to suck up vast numbers of insects. They make a very loud noise that can be heard up to 200m away as they vacuum up to 10,000 ants or termites at a time.
Despite their ambling, deliberate gait, these animals are certainly not lazy. They spend the majority of their time wandering around looking for food, but if the need arises they can move very fast. The only time they rest (they don’t hibernate) is during the rainy season, when they spend extended periods of inactivity in caves.
It’s estimated there are up to 11,000 Sloth Bears across India and they tend to live in small, isolated pockets, quite often in Tiger habitat. They do sometimes become prey for the big cat, but if a mother with a cub feels threatened they have been known to charge into a ferocious battle. (The females carry their cubs on their backs, the only species of bear that does so.) As long as they have access to an abundance of available food sources they can survive in a diverse range of habitats, including dense lowland forests, scrubby areas and tall grasslands.
Encounter the Sloth Bear on a Tiger Tour
Apart from the big cat itself, the intriguing Sloth Bear is just one of the many other species of mammals, reptiles and abundant avian life that can be seen on an organised Tiger tour to one of India’s lush national parks.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Tiger watching. As a passionate lover of wildlife, Marissa chooses the expert-led Tiger tour itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of species in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
Related Articles -