The National Zoo’s sloth bear Khali gave birth to three cubs on Dec. 29. But then she ate two of them.
Zookeepers say they removed the third cub in order to save it from its mother, and have been raising it ever since. According to the zoo, it is not uncommon for carnivores like sloth bears to eat their stillborn or live cubs if “they or the mother are compromised in some way.”
Khali ingested the first cub right after it was born. But it ate the second cub seven days later and then started ignoring the third cub, not normal behavior for a sloth bear.
Keepers took the third cub to the veterinary hospital, which determined that she was hypothermic because her mother had not been cradling her. Zookeepers looked to place the cub with other sloth bear cubs being “hand-raised” by humans elsewhere, but ultimately opted to have a team of humans raise it at the National Zoo.
“It is always preferable for cubs to be raised by their mothers, but that was not possible this time,” said keeper and sloth bear expert Mindy Babitz in a release. “We had to become this cub’s ‘mothers.’ We are caring for her needs around the clock—not just physical, but social, cognitive and emotional needs; it’s very encouraging to watch her develop and grow.”
Keepers, according to the zoo release, stay with the cub 24 hours a day, feeding her at regular intervals. They initially even carried the cub in a baby sling to simulate how cubs ride on their mothers’ backs. Cubs typically stay with their mothers for three years.
And while Khali may not get the parent of the year award in 2014, she has successfully raised two cubs in the past.
The zoo says the surviving cub likely won’t be on exhibit until summer.
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian