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A special winter gift: sloth bear is born

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications

UPDATE | Dec. 30, 2015
Sad news: At just over one week old, our baby sloth bear passed away overnight. The baby had been under mom’s care in a private maternity den. This is the second cub to pass from Kushali’s December 19 litter—the first cub was not viable and did not survive past the first 48 hours. Though we hoped for a happier outcome for the second cub, and its first days were encouraging, the cub passed during the night as mom slept. It is not uncommon for first-time sloth bear mothers to lose their litter. Sloth bears are born tiny and blind, and the first few days are always critical. Kushali was an attentive mom and will have other opportunities to breed in the future. 

It’s hard to lose a gift as beautiful as new life especially for a species at risk, and we want to thank you all for your support. 

ORIGINAL POST | Dec. 28, 2015
We’re excited to share some wonderful news; our young female sloth bear, Kushali, gave birth to her first cub. On Saturday, December 19, Kushali gave birth in a cozy off-view maternity den. The tiny cub is the first offspring for 3-year old female Kushali with 15-year old male Bhutan.

Photo taken on December 27 shows Kushali holding her cub.

Below is video of the newborn, just moments after birth. The footage was taken from a keeper cam, a visual tool used by keepers to monitor the mother and cub while giving them privacy and space.

In the video above, you can see brand new mom, Kushali, comfort and clean her tiny newborn. The behind-the-scenes den is a quiet and cozy spot for nursing and bonding. (

Right now the cub is very tiny and practically blind. It will begin to open its eyes at around 3-4 weeks old, and shortly after its eyes open the cub will begin to learn to walk. For now, the little one will stay quite close to mom, nursing and snuggling up in all that warm sloth bear fur. Dad, Bhutan, is staying in his own den right now, giving Kushali and her cub space to bond, which is a typical family structure for sloth bears.

This screenshot was taken just moments after birth. The cub looks very tiny because an average birth weight for sloth bears is 10.5-17.5 ounces (300-500 g). For comparison, a pomegranate weighs about 12.5 ounces.
Born in December 2012, Kushali herself was a winter surprise. Keepers didn’t know that mom, Tasha, had given birth to not one, but two sloth bears until they spotted two little twin cubs on the den cam and heard two distinct vocalizations. Thanks to Tasha, we know that Kushali had the very best teacher to show her all the right ways to be a patient and wonderful sloth bear momma.

You might remember when Kushali herself hitched a ride on Tasha’s back! Unlike other bear species, sloth bear mothers carry cubs on their back until cubs reach about 2 months. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Kushali and her newborn cub will remain off view to allow for maternal bonding and continued nursing in a quiet den. Our animal care staff is monitoring the new family remotely with the help of a keeper cam to ensure the cub continues to thrive.

“Mom and cub are doing very well,” says Pat Owen, collection manager at Woodland Park Zoo. “The first 72 hours are the most critical for a cub. Kushali’s cub has surpassed that mark which is a good sign, but we will continue to monitor the cub for the first few months to ensure it remains healthy and continues to grow.”

A curious visitor gets an up close view of a sloth bear's specially shaped mouth in the new Banyan Wilds exhibit. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

Animal care staff will continue to monitor the cub’s progress on the keeper cam and will perform a routine wellness and development check on the cub when Kushali begins to temporarily shift in and out of the maternity den. If all goes well, weather included, Kushali and her cub could be on view sometime in March.

This is a significant birth for a species under threat of extinction. With fewer than 50 sloth bears in North American zoos today and fewer than 10,000 remaining in the wild, we are thrilled to welcome this rare, new addition. This breeding was recommended under the sloth bear Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative breeding program to ensure genetic diversity and demographic stability among North American zoos.

Tasha with her twin cubs Kushali and Randhir in 2013. Photo by Ryan Hawk/ Woodland Park Zoo. 


Julie said…
Congratulations. Happy to hear things are going well.