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National Zoo Keepers Help Raise Sloth Bear Cub

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Jessica Kartalija 3 Jessica Kartalija
Jessica Kartalija joined the Eyewitness News team during the summer of...
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WASHINGTON (WJZ) — Five keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo have a new title: bear mom. With sloth bears so rare, they’re taking care of a cub whose survival is very important.

Jessica Kartalija has more.

It’s nap time and the sloth bear cub is finally learning to self-soothe after months of sleepless nights for its five mothers.

“I think all of us were sitting here in the middle of the night in the rocking chair, singing to her, trying to get her to go to sleep,” said Mindy Babitz.

The keepers-turned-bear moms say the yet-to-be-named 3-month-old is a handful.

“The terrible twos for the bear cub was at two months, as opposed to two years,” said Babitz.

The cub had to be pulled from its mother a week after its Dec. 29 birth.

“Khali, her mother, ingested one of the cubs that she gave birth to,” said Stacey Tabellario.

“A week later when she consumed a second one, that’s what alarmed us,” Babitz said.

The keepers don’t know why Khali did it. The mother sloth bear has raised two cubs before but this time, she was acting strangely and neglecting her cubs. When they pulled the third cub, it was hypothermic.

The keepers looked for a substitute bear mom but couldn’t find one so they began hand-rearing with help from other zoos.

“She’s a survivor, this little cub. She’s been growing; she’s been gaining a lot of weight,” said Tabellario.

“I definitely feel like a proud mom watching every step that she makes,” said Babitz.

A sloth bear cub typically spends several years with its mother but the keepers know they can’t be bear moms forever.

Zookeepers say it isn’t uncommon for an animal to eat its young especially when it’s born sick or stillborn. It doesn’t happen often inside of a zoo.

If the keepers can’t place the cub back with its mother, they’ll try introducing the cub to its father.

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