Lazy bears kill and eat pairs in “very unusual” attacks in Indian forests

A sloth bear at the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra, India.
A sloth bear has been seen in a file taken at the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, in Maharashtra, India.

Rakesh Reddy Ponnala / Getty

New Delhi A sloth bear crushed a couple to death in a forest in the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India last weekend and then spent hours eating their remains in a cruel attack that conservationists say was unusual for the species. While sloth bear attacks on humans are relatively common, it is not generally known that they feed on human flesh.

The attack took place on Sunday when a man and his wife were on their way home from a temple visit early in the morning. The sloth bear first attacked the woman when the couple walked through the forest in Panna National Park and killed her. Her husband was killed when he tried to save his wife.

Divisional Forest Officer Gaurav Sharma was quoted by India’s NDTV network as saying that the attack took place around 06:30 in the morning after the couple went “to pray in a temple” in the area.

Eyewitnesses told the Times of India that a crowd of villagers gathered at the scene and tried to scare the bear away by firing shots into the air, but it would not budge and continued to eat the victims for three hours until forest workers arrived.

“This is very unusual,” Neha Sinha, a conservation biologist and author, told CBS News. “Usually sloths eat honey and insects.”

Lazy bears are found in India and other South Asian countries, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan. They are about the size of American black bears and can grow to weigh more than 300 pounds.

Wild bear attack in Srinagar
A man who followed a wild bear after he entered a residential house and injured a person on the outskirts of Srinagar on December 3, 2012 in Srinagar, India.

Waseem Andrabi / Hindustan Times / Getty

Escalating deforestation has robbed species including bears of their natural habitat and placed them in closer proximity to towns and villages for at least two decades, and incidents of violent human-animals confrontations has been on the rise in India.

“In general, there is conflict in the mahua season, when people go to collect flowers and the bears feed,” Sinha explained to CBS News. The Mahua is a tree that grows over many parts of South Asia and blooms in late spring and early summer. The flowers are valued by both humans and sloths.

Residents often venture into the woods to collect the flowers for sale at this time of year.

India livelihood
An archive image from March 22, 2014 shows Indians collecting mahua leaves from a tree in a forest in Mirzapur, approximately 84 miles east of Allahabad, India.

Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP

Forest officials told Indian media that the bear’s unusual behavior may have been due to a rabies infection.

Uttam Kumar Sharma, field director for Panna National Park, was quoted by the news agency India Today as saying that “the bear appears to have been plagued by rabies, and was in its final stages.”

Regional authorities said the couple’s family would be given 400,000 Indian rupees ($ 5,100) in compensation for the loss.