National Geographic : 2004 Nov
By John L. Eliot NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SENIOR WRITER Photographs by K.Yoganand Scientific blunders can live on forever. When 18th-century European museum curators were first sent specimens of a large furry mammal with long curved white claws, they named it "bear-like sloth" because its claws resem ble those of South American sloths. Later taxonomists realized that the species was a tropical bear unrelated to sloths, but its wrongheaded name remains-the sloth bear. Ranging India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and possibly Bangla desh, these 150- to 300-pound bears feed on fruits and insects. They sound like bellows when using their flexible snouts and lips to blow away dirt and suck STUDY SITE: Panna National Park, India GRANTEES: Cliff Rice and K.Yoganand KEY AIMS: To study behavior and habitat needs of sloth bears, investi gate causes of conflicts with people, develop methods for estimating and monitoring India's sloth bears POPULATION: An estimated 6,000 to 11,000 sloth bears live in India. up termites and ants. But don't be misled: This frowsy, gentle looking bear can be ferocious, occasionally mauling or killing villagers who enter the forest. Yoganand often talks with villag ers to help minimize conflicts. "Attacks can be prevented if people avoid certain places." Climbing aboard their mother (right), cubs prepare to ride "bearback." This radio-collared female will give her cubs a free lift until they're about six months old, a behavior unique among bear species. Carrying her cubs may help the female defend them from tigers, leopards, and hyenas.