The recluse of the jungle, the nocturnal sloth bear is scruffy in appearance. With much ado, grunting and snorting it goes about its daily chores of breaking down branches of fruit and searching for termites and beetles. The sloth bear can only be enticed to come out of hiding during the Palu berry season. Springing forth in abundance, Palu season starts in May and goes on till end July, coinciding with the sloth bear watching season as this bear has a large appetite for the small fruits.
Palu is a yellow fruit with a thick pulp that has an extremely sweet flavour the bears simply cannot resist. They will climb the tall trees in search of these berries and gobble as many. Dizzy from over-indulging, especially young greedy bears can be found slouched below these trees.
Yala is one of the best places to watch sloth bears in action as they are usually seen picking fallen berries.
Sri Lanka’s national parks have long attracted hordes of tourists for leopard and elephant sightings. The sloth bear is yet to receive such fame as it is difficult to spot these furry bears, a sighting during the day is rare unless during the Palu season.
Unlike the leopard that has acute senses that help it to track a human from a distance, the sloth bear relies mostly on its eyesight and realises human presence, only when it is very close. The animal panics if it does not see a clear route of escape, and attacks as a defence mechanism. It has been listed as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). So those on holiday in Sri Lanka for the next few months can tour to spot the sloth bear.
However, there are a few tips that would-be bear watchers need to keep in mind. Don’t run when confronted by an animal and express fear, although a tad difficult to achieve it is important to remember. Taking to your heels once spotted doubles the chances of the sloth bear mounting a defensive attack. Best advice is to pick up some sticks and make a big noise and stand your ground. Unprovoked attacks on human beings mostly occur when the female is with her cubs or during the mating season when the males are aggressive.
Wasgamuwa is said to have the largest bear population estimated at around 50 – 75 animals. Yala is said to be inhabited by about 50 bears while Wilpattu is also a good place to lookout for them. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or just looking for adventure, the nocturnal sloth bear will be a thrilling sight and definitely something to write home about.
So visit Sri Lanka’s national parks during your stay, you may get sloth-lucky.