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Sloth bear cubs emerge from den

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Communications
Photos by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

NOTE: The sloth bear exhibit is currently off view while construction is completed in the area. A temporary path will open on May 4 to give you access to see the cubs on exhibit. Until then, the cubs' time spent outside is off view to visitors. Thanks for your patience. We promise the cubs are worth the wait!

Last Friday, our twin sloth bear cubs took their first steps outside. Technically, their very first moments outside weren't steps at all, as they rode out from their den clinging to mom's back. Their feet didn't hit the ground until a minute later, when the sights and smells piqued their curiosity and they hopped down to check out their new surroundings.

Video: Sloth bear cubs outside for the first time. Produced by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

The cubs are now 3 months old, and up until now, they have been glued to mom's side in their behind-the-scenes maternity den. We haven't been able to get up close with them yet, so we still don't know their sexes. But our observational exams over the last few months have shown that the cubs are growing and doing well. Watching them explore outdoors was our first chance to see just how big and bold they are truly getting.

The twins' instincts fired away the instant they hit the ground. Sloth bears dig into logs and termite mounds with their long claws, then use their vacuum-like mouths to slurp up buggy treats. When momma bear Tasha does this, you can hear the slurp from up to 300 feet away. For the cubs, the efforts weren't quite as mighty. They used their claws to scratch at logs and enrichment devices in search of hidden treasures, and snuffled their snouts into every crevice, though the tiny Hoovers could barely be heard. Still, this was good practice for developing the skills that will keep them well fed once they are fully weaned from mom.

Sloth bears are natural climbers, and the cubs gave it their best shot. A few times they ventured to climb on the logs just a little high for mom's comfort, so she'd intervene to show them the way to the ground. One little cub got brave with its climbing and jumping, and attempted a Superman-leap—front and back legs stretched out—from a log onto mom's back. It leaped with all the might its little legs could muster, but couldn't go the distance and belly flopped onto the ground. Discovering your own physical limits is a lesson tiny explorers sometimes have to learn the hard way!

Mom Tasha kept her eye on the cubs, but occasionally they'd venture just a little further out of her reach than they were ready for. Whenever they'd realize this, they'd let out a little shriek and go running back to her for comfort. The twins found comfort in each other too, rolling around together and practicing their climbing on each other's heads.

This first session lasted a few hours, which was enough to tire out the young family. They'll have more sessions over the next few weeks to get ready for their official debut on May 4! The sloth bear exhibit has been off view since last fall when we began construction in the area, but we'll open a temporary path over there starting May 4 to assure you all have the chance to spend time with this irresistible family.

The construction in the area is for a very good cause—a dramatic makeover of the heart of the zoo, including a new home for sloth bears in the near future. On May 4, we’ll open the first phase of the Bamboo Forest Reserve exhibit, featuring Asian small-clawed otters, a tropical aviary, and a children’s nature play space. With your support, we’ll be able to tackle the second and final phase next, which will bring not only a spacious and dynamic new home for sloth bears, but one for endangered Malayan tigers as well!

Artist rendering of the future sloth bear exhibit. Image by Mir, courtesy of Woodland Park Zoo.

With fewer than 50 sloth bears in North American zoos today and fewer than 10,000 remaining in the wild, it’s a treasure to share this incredible species with our community, and to work together to protect its forest habitat in the wild. Learn more at