Commonly attributed as the character “Baloo” in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, the sloth bear has a long history alongside humans. Unfortunately, its history outside of children’s novels hasn’t been so heartwarming.
Dating back to the 13th century, sloth bears have been systematically taken from their mothers at a young age to be trained to dance for money before royalty, tourists, and villagers. The bears’ snouts were pierced for a rope to fit through, and for many bears, being led around by a rope was the only life they would ever know. Additionally, sloth bear cubs are poached for their use in Chinese medicine, and their habitat is continuously encroached upon by humans.
Zoo Boise recently announced a project to help sloth bears in captivity and in their natural habitat in India. The Zoo’s general policy is to contribute a percentage of every capital project budget to the conservation of that species in the wild. “Zoo Boise feels that by contributing 10 percent of the project budget to field conservation it demonstrates our commitment to conservation to donors and enables zoo visitors to not only see the animal, but also help protect it in the wild,” explains Director of Zoo Boise, Steve Burns.
That promise held true when the Zoo decided to invest $500,000 in the design and construction of a remodel of their sloth bear exhibit: $50,000 will go toward sloth bear conservation in the wild. In this venture, Zoo Boise has partnered with Wildlife SOS, a non-profit devoted to conserving India’s wildlife, after witnessing its extensive and successful work in ending the practice of dancing bears in India. The first $18,000 installment will be used in developing training manuals to help law enforcement agencies identify smuggling and poaching, and includes a step-by-step guide on how to prosecute wildlife crime. The second part of the funds will go toward purchasing a corridor of land connecting two tracts of sloth bear habitat.
Sloth bears are a part of the Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan®, which aims to manage and conserve select and typically threatened or endangered species populations. Projects like that of Zoo Boise are a perfect example of accredited zoos and aquariums making significant contributions to conservation which provide animals with much, much more than the “bear necessities”.