Little is known about the biology, status, or distribution of sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) in Sri Lanka. To facilitate sloth bear conservation, information is needed about where bears occur and what landscapes support their populations. We overlaid a 5- × 5-km grid on 1:50,000-scale land-use maps covering historic sloth bear range in Sri Lanka. In 2004, we documented current (2002–04) sloth bear presence or absence in each 25-km2 cell by interviewing knowledgeable forest users. We sought as respondents hunters, wildlife and security personnel, and others with experience in their local forests as most likely to supply reliable information regarding the presence or absence of sloth bears. We also assessed respondents' perceptions and attitudes toward sloth bears. Sloth bear range occupied <17% of Sri Lanka's land area with approximately 40% contained within national parks and strict nature reserves where hunting is banned and human access regulated. Except for a few small, isolated areas, sloth bear range was largely contiguous. However, large portions of sloth bear range in the north and east of the island were unprotected. Prevalence of monsoon forest was the strongest positive predictor of sloth bear presence. Elevation, road density, and human population density were significant negative predictors. Perceptions that sloth bear populations had increased were common among almost half (49%) the respondents. Although 70% of respondents regarded sloth bears as a threat, 66% supported legal protection. This positive attitude toward protection may facilitate conservation efforts. The establishment of additional protected areas in the north and east of the island and strict regulation of human activity in protected areas may enhance sloth bear conservation.
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