Sloth Raised by Humans at Zoo

SlothA sloth bear is being raised by humans at the National Zoo. The sloth was taken away from its mother after the mother ate two of the three cubs that she gave birth to. It is not uncommon for sloths, and other different wild animals, to eat their young if they are sick.

The female sloth bear at the National Zoo, Khali, gave birth to three cubs in December. She ate one of the cubs 20 minutes after birth. She ate the second cub a week later, which is when zoo keepers became worried for the third cub.

In the wild a sick cub can attract predators, so the mother will eat them in order to protect the other cubs and herself. When the mother left the cub for a period of time, zoo keepers were able to get the cub. This is the first time in the history of the National Zoo that a sloth bear will be raised by humans.

The cub weighed one pound when she was taken from her mother. Zoo keepers placed her in an incubator after taking her. They found the cub to be ill, she had a cold along with a type of infection. Zoo keepers gave her antibiotics, and kept her warm with the incubator and a heating pad. Her body temperature was low because the mother sloth had not been cradling her. Sloth bears usually cradle their cubs, which regulates the temperature of the cubs.

The humans raising the sloth at the zoo originally carried the sloth around with them by using a sling in order to mimic the mother sloth carrying the sloth. Once the sloth got bigger the zoo keepers played with her in a special area that helped encourage her to climb.

For now the sloth bear, who has not been named yet, cannot be returned to her mother, however that might be a possibility in the future. The zoo keepers are hoping to introduce the sloth cub to other sloth bears gradually. If the introductions go well she may be reintroduced to her mother. There is also the possibility that she will be introduced to her father.

The National Zoo currently has five sloth bears.  Sloth bears can grow to be anywhere from 120 to 310 pounds.  They are roughly five to six feet long and stand two to three feet high at the shoulder.

Sloth bears are often captured for bile farms. If caught for a bile farm the sloth bears gall bladders are tapped for bile.  The bile is then used for medicinal purposes.

Because sloth bears at this cub’s age are typically only observed via closed-circuit television, this opportunity to raise the cub has been a great learning experience for the zoo keepers.  They have been able to learn more about her vocalizations, sleep patterns and movements.

The cub, who weighed one pound when taken from her mother, has transformed into an 11 pound curious little bear. This new experience of raising a sloth bear by humans at the National Zoo might bring more attention to the sloth bears, who typically are not very well-known by the public.

By Ashley Campbell


The Washington Post
Smithsonian National Zoological Park

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