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Camera trap footage from the wild reveals sloth bear mama and three playful cubs

Posted by: Elizabeth Bacher, communications

While you’re getting to know our curious sloth bear cubs, Deemak and Kartick, we thought you’d also like to know more about their wild cousins and how Woodland Park Zoo is working with conservation partners on the ground in their native habitat to help to protect them.

Sloth bears are endangered, mostly due to habitat loss or degradation from human expansion, retaliation from human-bear conflict and to a lesser degree, poaching.  It is believed that no more than 10,000-20,000 sloth bears remain in the wild. That’s one of the reasons why Woodland Park Zoo partners with a conservation organization like Wildlife SOS.

Currently, the research study that Wildlife SOS is conducting focuses on the two types of dens that wild sloth bears use – maternal dens which are used to give birth and raise cubs, and day dens which are used as a place to safely rest during daylight hours when sloth bears are not as active. Here is some new camera trap footage recently captured by Wildlife SOS. You can see a mom and her three cubs explore near their den.

Video from Wildlife SOS:

Thomas Sharp, the Director of Conservation and Research for Wildlife SOS tells us that by learning more about the den locations, sizes and the differences between the two den types we’ll be able to better understand how these bears use the landscape around them. We’ll also be able to better assess the impacts that habitat disturbance may have on sloth bear ecology, prioritize conservation strategies to minimize conflicts with humans and protect them from threats like poaching.

The information we get from Wildlife SOS can also influence how we look after sloth bears that are in human care. Understanding how they use their landscapes and dens in the wild will help zoos to design exhibit spaces and dens that better meet their needs. Woodland Park Zoo’s state-of-the-art sloth bear exhibit, which opened in 2015, includes lots of digging pits, a ravine for climbing, a termite mound and logs where they can claw for enrichment treats like honey, bugs and fruit.

Deemak and Kartick hitch a ride on mama Tasha’s back at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

The sloth bear is an insect and fruit-eating bear species with a range that includes areas in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Compared to brown and black bears, sloth bears have lankier builds, long, shaggy coats that form a mane around the face (similar to that of a lion), long, sickle-shaped claws, and a specially adapted lower lip and mouth structure used for sucking up insects. It is thought that the species got its name because 18th century explorers mistook them for “bear-like-sloths” after seeing those long claws, the way they can hang from branches and carry their babies on their backs. Scientists later realized that the species was a bear and not at all related to sloths, but the name stuck–the sloth bear.

Deemak and Kartick at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo by John Loughlin/Woodland Park Zoo.

Sloth bears in the wild could use your help. You can show them some love with any or all of these three actions:

1. Every visit to Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation in the wild.
We hope you’ll come visit as Deemak and Kartick continue to grow and explore their space—under the watchful eye of their mom Tasha, of course.

2. Buy wisely.
Choose Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper and wood products to protect forest habitat and wildlife. By purchasing FSC-certified forest products, consumers help to protect sloth bear habitat by encouraging sustainable forestry and limiting overharvest of forest products (timber, fuelwood, fruits and honey). Without the FSC label, your timber may come from illegal logging and forests that are not responsibly managed.

3. Help us fill the Honey Jar!
Sloth bear mama Tasha takes great care of her cubs, and she's got a dedicated team behind her: keepers, veterinarians, and you! Help us fill the honey jar—a nod to these bears' favorite sweet treat—with a gift of any size. Your generosity helps us provide a nutritious diet (there's a lot more to it than honey!), medical check-ups, a cub-proofed home designed for safe exploration, and dedicated human friends (also known as keepers) to assure Tasha and the cubs receive the best care.