FROM ZOO TO YOU Celebrating teddy and sloth bears

By Alyssa Mechler

National Teddy Bear Day was Sept. 9, in honor of one famous childhood toy (hint: it had something to do with our 26th president). While you may have heard the story behind how the teddy bear got its name, it’s important to remember true bears like the sloth bear aren’t cuddly like the teddy bear. 

While teddy bears may look like a brown bear or even a black bear, they are very different from the resident bear species at the Lee Richardson Zoo, the sloth bear who is native to India, Sri Lanka, and southern Nepal. Sloth bears have shaggy dark black coats with pale snouts, a cream-colored arrow on their chest, and long curved claws.

The first scientific description of the sloth bears was in 1791, with the name Ursine Bradypus, meaning bearlike slow foot. Thinking the species may be related to the sloth, this was an accurate name; despite the taxonomy of the species, the name has remained. 

Unlike the sloth, Namba, the resident sloth bear at Lee Richardson Zoo, is quite active. He can be found snorting and excavating for various bugs and goodies throughout his exhibit. His long claws are excellent for digging, and his long snout is perfect for sniffing out bugs. The sloth bear is the only bear who can completely close its nostrils, protecting them from the elements when slurping bugs out of nests or hives. The sloth bear has many adaptations that help them to survive.

Even though these waddling bears lack their top two front teeth, allowing them to inhale insects with ease, they are still a bear, and bears are not to be messed with. They can weigh an average of 200 to 300 pounds, and unlike the bears of North America, they don’t hibernate. Sloth bears are active year-round, mostly during the day, and are awake on average for 8-14 hours, that’s one active species!

Though everyone may love their teddy bears, and we hope you enjoy National Teddy Bear Day, we also hope you learn something new about a not-so-well-known bear. Come visit Namba, the sloth bear, on your next visit to the zoo and see what adaptations you notice Namba using!

Alyssa Mechler is the conservation awareness manager at Lee Richardson Zoo.