Harmony and Challenges: Coexistence of Sloth Bears and Humans in Karnataka

Harmony and Challenges: Coexistence of Sloth Bears and Humans in Karnataka

Karnataka, known for its association with the legendary bear king Jambavan from the Hindu epic Ramayana, is home to a significant sloth bear population. Despite harmonious coexistence with humans in many areas, human-sloth bear conflicts do occur, raising concerns about the well-being of both communities and wildlife enthusiasts.

Survey in Karnataka’s Western Ghats

A survey conducted in September 2021 across 38,540 square kilometers of Karnataka’s Western Ghats revealed unexpected harmony between sloth bears and humans. Cultural acceptance in densely populated regions played a crucial role in challenging the conventional notion of human-wildlife conflict.

Distribution and Habitat

Sloth bears occupy approximately 67% of potential habitat in India, extending beyond protected areas into multi-use forests. In the Western Ghats, nearly 61% of the forested landscape hosts these elusive creatures, with a preference for drier forests and rough terrains. However, only a small portion of this area is designated as wildlife reserves.

Historical Exploitation

Sloth bears have been tragically exploited by humans for over 400 years. The nomadic tribe Kalandars subjected bears to ‘dancing’ for emperors during the Mughal era. This exploitative practice transformed into cheap roadside entertainment, leading to the ruthless killing of mother bears and the capture of cubs. Wildlife SOS initiated a rescue and rehabilitation mission in 1996, significantly impacting the situation.

Current Conservation Efforts

Bannerughatta National Park in Karnataka hosts an active bear protection program under the Wildlife SOS initiative. Despite positive trends in population stability and habitat expansion, human-sloth bear conflicts persist due to habitat encroachment and agricultural activities.

Sloth Bear Sanctuaries

India has four sloth bear sanctuaries, with Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary in Karnataka being the first in Asia. This sanctuary, declared in 1994, covers 82.72 square kilometers and features a unique landscape providing shelter to sloth bears.

Tourism Impact

Sloth bear tourism has gained popularity, with Daroji’s ‘Sweet Lick’ areas attracting visitors. However, such practices, including unnatural feeding, have been discontinued due to their impact on the bears’ health and habitat disturbance.

Mitigation Strategies

The survey highlights the importance of community engagement and awareness programs in mitigating human-sloth bear conflicts. Recommendations include enhancing habitat connectivity, minimizing human-wildlife interaction zones, and implementing responsible waste management practices.


While sloth bears continue to face challenges, collaborative efforts between wildlife conservationists, government initiatives, and community awareness programs play a crucial role in ensuring the coexistence of humans and sloth bears in Karnataka.

Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)

  1. What was the focus of the survey conducted in Karnataka’s Western Ghats?
    • a) Tiger population
    • b) Sloth bear-human coexistence
    • c) Elephant migration patterns
    • d) Bird species diversity
    • Answer: b) Sloth bear-human coexistence
  2. What contributed to the surprising harmony between sloth bears and humans in Karnataka?
    • a) Dense forest cover
    • b) Cultural acceptance
    • c) Protected wildlife reserves
    • d) Secluded habitats
    • Answer: b) Cultural acceptance
  3. Which region in Karnataka hosts an active bear protection program under the Wildlife SOS initiative?
    • a) Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary
    • b) Ballari district
    • c) Bannerughatta National Park
    • d) Western Ghats
    • Answer: c) Bannerughatta National Park
  4. What historical practice led to the exploitation of sloth bears for entertainment?
    • a) Elephant rides
    • b) Bird hunting
    • c) ‘Dancing’ bears
    • d) Snake charming
    • Answer: c) ‘Dancing’ bears
  5. What is cited as a reason for human-sloth bear conflicts in Karnataka?
    • a) Excessive natural feeding
    • b) Sloth bear tourism
    • c) Habitat encroachment and agricultural activities
    • d) Lack of wildlife reserves
    • Answer: c) Habitat encroachment and agricultural activities