WASHINGTON – When the National Zoo’s female sloth bear, Khali, delivered three cubs in December, she devoured one of them right after it was born.
Carnivores do this in the wild when there is a sick offspring. A deceased cub in the den can draw predators.
But a week later, when Khali ate a second cub, keepers feared for the third. So for the first time in the zoo’s history, keepers took a sloth bear cub from its mother to raise by hand.
Three months later, after weeks of incubators, midnight feedings and quiet sessions in a rocking chair, the sickly cub has grown into a healthy 11-pound sphere of black fur and relentless curiosity.
On Tuesday, keepers showed off their foundling as it clambered around its enclosure and downed a warmed bottle of formula.
The zoo’s sloth bears are not the celebrities that their fellow bears, the giant pandas, are. Adults are shaggy, long-nosed, gap-toothed consumers of bugs.
A full-grown sloth bear can vacuum 50,000 termites a day with its flexible lips. And the zoo’s sloth bears like nothing better than a yummy handful of big, brown meal worms.
It’s a serious decision if you’re going to pull a cub, said Mindy Babitz, a sloth bear expert at the zoo.
Keepers are proud to have saved the animal, which comes from one of the world’s vulnerable species.