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Sloth Bear Cubs

July 1, 2014

It’s time for an update on our sloth bear cub, Remi! Animal keepers Mindy Babitz and Stacey Tabellario tell us that since making her yard debut in May, Remi has been busy behind-the-scenes getting to know the other bears on Asia Trail.

As a baby, Remi was getting round-the-clock feedings. Has mealtime changed?

She still receives a formula diet three times a day, but she’s also starting to sample an adult bear diet. This includes small helpings of bear chow softened in diluted apple juice, as well as bite-sized pieces of fruit. Keepers are helping to ease the transition between formula and adult foods by first giving Remi a variety of Gerber baby foods. Six-month-old Remi now weighs about 50 pounds!

As Remi grows, are you seeing her personality develop?

Yes! Remi is an incredibly intelligent bear with a head-strong personality. She likes to get her way and is good at manipulating her keepers until she gets what she wants! At times she can be silly and play keep-away with her toys. Occasionally she will rummage through her keepers pockets looking for toys and treats—then runs wild with her “discoveries.”

Was Remi nervous to meet her mom (Khali), dad (Francois), Hana, or Hank?

Remi has had visual access to all the other bears since she was about 2 months old.

All of the bears were interested in watching Remi from afar but didn’t necessarily want Remi to get too close to them. Hana exhibited some maternal behavior towards Remi (like making a calming vocalization when she would cry), but if Remi approached her too closely, she would very clearly let her know she didn’t want her to come any closer (by barking and swatting). Hana is currently in the process of weaning her 18 months old, Hank, and is not interested in taking care of another cub right now.

Hank has shown a lot of interest in Remi and even had a few play dates with her last month. Being a teenage boy, he did what most boys that age do (regardless of species) and chased after her and pulled her hair. It’s normal for a bit of roughhousing to occur between cubs, or between mom and cub. Unfortunately, Remi showed that she was apprehensive when Hank tried to play. It’s normal for a young cub like Remi to be a bit fearful and cautious around a bear who isn’t mom (or, in this case, her human “moms”). We stopped play dates for now but will try again once Remi’s a little more mature.

For the past few months Khali and Francois were very focused on each other because it was breeding season and because of that, they were not interested in Remi. Although we did not put them together to breed, the sights, sounds, and smells of being in the same vicinity kept their attentions fixed on one another. Recently, Khali left the National Zoo for Little Rock as part of the Species Survival Plan for Sloth Bears and will be paired with an eligible male there.

Since Francois is no longer pining for Khali, he’s refocused his attention on Remi. We’re hopeful the two of them can start to become more familiar with each other now that they have visual access overnight. Since Francois is a very sensitive, gentle, older bear, he would be a good companion for her even though males don’t normally have any role in raising their offspring. Francois has always been very social and loves to play with other bears so we’re hoping he and Remi will become friends and he can be a good role model for her to help her learn about being a bear

Have keepers started training sessions with Remi?

Yes, Remi has already learned a handful of behaviors and loves training sessions. She opens her mouth so we can look at her teeth, she sits with her paws out so we can inspect her paw pads, and she sits nicely on a scale so we can get her weight every morning. She gets a squirt of dilute peanut butter as a reward—it’s her favorite treat!

How do you keep Remi entertained?

Remi has a variety of toys ranging from typical dog toys to heavy-duty adult bear toys. Just like the adults, she loves to play with objects, puzzle toys, balls, sheets, towels, and anything paper.

We give her something novel each day in addition to the toys she regularly has in her enclosure. (If you haven’t seen the video of her showing off her harmonica skills, check it out!)

Remi also has a couple very special stuffed animals (a giant panda and a life-size teddy bear) that are very dear to her and help comfort her when she is alone. She falls asleep snuggling her panda or her teddy!

We’d like to give a special thank you to the folks that have donated to the Enrichment Giving Tree as part of #ZooEnrichment week. Thanks to your generosity, Remi (and all the Zoo’s animals) have their pick of toys to play with!

What is the best time to see Remi on exhibit?

Remi may be seen in the yard with keepers at unscheduled times, but until she is permanently paired with another bear, she will not be on exhibit regularly. It is very important for her social and behavioral development that she lives with other bears and learns bear social behavior. She’s growing fast, so the keepers’ time as “moms” is winding down. We hope to get her paired up with another bear soon.

We’ll be sure to update our Facebook and Twitter pages with all the latest updates and the best times to spot her on Asia Trail.

I want to help sloth bears! What can I do?

Visit the Zoo to learn more about sloth bears and to see these beautiful creatures up close!

Your help can ensure the future of sloth bears not only at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo but in the wider, wild world! Text NATZOO to the number 20222 via cell phone to donate $10 to our conservation fund.

May 5, 2014

Four month-old sloth bear cub, Remi, ventured outside for the very first time this morning with her surrogate bear moms and dad!

She quickly began exploring her outdoor yard with keepers nearby. They were happy to report that she did very well during her first trip outside, climbing and playing, but after all the excitement of the morning she desperately needed a nap. Keepers will continue to slowly acclimate her to her outdoor yard, but she will not be on exhibit regularly just yet. ‪

April 17, 2014

A sloth bear cub and a seal pup by any other name would still be as sweet, but our keepers chose the perfect names for them. Our sloth bear cub is named Remi and our seal pup is named Rona!

Asia Trail keepers who have been hand-rearing our sloth bear cub chose the name Remi. The name is derived from the rapid eye movement cycle of sleep (REM). When she was very young the cub slept with her eyes slightly opened, and keepers have spent many nights ensuring she sleeps soundly.

March 20, 2014

sloth bear cub
Photo by Janice Sveda, Smithsonian's National Zoo

The decision for keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo to hand-raise a female sloth bear cub instead of leaving her with her mother Khali likely saved her life. She is now very active and growing as the result of the round-the-clock care she has received for the past two-and-a-half months.

The cub was one of three cubs born to Khali December 29, 2013, and she is the only cub that survived longer than seven days. Khali ingested the first cub about 20 minutes after she gave birth December 29. It is not uncommon for carnivores, including sloth bears, to ingest stillborn cubs, or even live cubs if they or the mother are compromised in some way. Khali, an experienced mom, appeared attentive to her two remaining cubs, and keepers monitored her closely via closed-circuit cams before, during and after the births. However, she ingested a second cub seven days later and spent several hours away from her remaining cub in the early morning hours of January 6, which is not normal for a sloth bear with a newborn cub.

“Our team is always prepared to intervene and hand-rear a cub if it appears that a cub is not thriving,” said Tony Barthel, curator of Asia Trail. “We already had developed a plan for hand-rearing before Khali gave birth, and our ability to act quickly was critical.”  

At that point, keepers decided the only way the remaining cub would likely survive was to retrieve her from Khali’s den. Keepers rushed the cub to the veterinary hospital around 7:30 a.m. Veterinarians examined her and determined that she was hypothermic and weak. Khali had not been cradling her, which would have regulated the cub’s temperature and kept her warm. Veterinarians treated her with antibiotics, vitamins and fluid therapy. They also placed her in an incubator to help stabilize her body temperature. By 9 a.m. she was nursing from a bottle. For the next several days she was bottle-fed eight times each day. The cub was healthy enough to leave the veterinary hospital January 9 and was returned to the sloth bear habitat, but keepers could not return her to her mother.

Keepers searched for other sloth bear cubs, or different bear species cubs, currently being hand-raised at other Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited institutions, but were unable to find any. Instead, a team of National Zoo keepers, veterinarians and nutritionists immediately stepped up as surrogates for the cub.

“Carrying the cub around for hours at a time gave us a unique opportunity to bond with her,” said Stacey Tabellario, animal keeper. “We quickly became in-tune with her vocalizations, movements and sleep patterns. With past cubs at this stage, we mostly only viewed them via closed-circuit television, so this has been a great chance to learn more about cub development.”

Keepers stay with the cub 24 hours a day and bottle feed her at regular intervals. After the cub first returned to the sloth bear habitat, keepers bottle-fed her seven times each day, but that was gradually reduced to six and now five times each day.

When the cub’s eyes opened onJanuary 26, keepers started to increase their level of interaction with her to provide her with the social stimulation she needed. Sloth bear cubs stay with their mothers for about three years. As newborns they are cradled by their mothers, and as they grow they ride on their mothers’ backs. To simulate those types of interactions, the keepers initially carried the cub in a baby sling with them during their daily routines. Now that she is a little bigger, keepers play with the cub in her den or in a specially designated play area to encourage natural behaviors like climbing.

“It is always preferable for cubs to be raised by their mothers, but that was not possible this time,” said keeper and sloth bear expert Mindy Babitz. “We had to become this cub’s ‘mothers.’ We are caring for her needs around the clock—not just physical, but social, cognitive and emotional needs; it’s very encouraging to watch her develop and grow.”

The sloth bear team would like her to interact with other sloth bears. In the coming weeks keepers will allow the cub to explore the indoor dens of the Zoo’s adult sloth bears while they are outside. They plan to visually introduce her to the adults over the next few months. If the gradual introductions go well, the cub may eventually be reintroduced to Khali, or introduced to her father François for companionship. The cub will likely not be on exhibit until summer.

Khali has successfully raised two cubs, born in 2004, before. She gave birth to another cub in 2002, but the cub only survived for about one month. François, the Zoo’s adult male sloth bear, sired the cubs born December 29, 2013. Khali is only the second sloth bear to give birth to a litter of three cubs in North America.

December 19, 2013

Hank in tire swing

Hank is a year old today! Hank now weighs about 125 pounds. His favorite foods are butternut squash, peanut butter, and grapes.

Hank and Hana share the same birthday so we will have a special birthday party to celebrate both bears. We have ordered some special treats for their birthday and will prepare special enrichment for them as well. Each bear will be getting a whole coconut which is something they don’t normally get. Since it may be too cold for them to go outside, we will likely hold the party inside and be sure to take pictures to share!

If it is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, Hank and Hana will most likely not be outside. Their yard does not have a heat source and sloth bears are tropical bears that come from a warm climate. Unlike bears that live in colder climates, sloth bears do not have an undercoat to keep them warm. They only have the outer layer of long guard hairs (similar to our hair) which functions to keep bugs off of them, but does not keep them warm in DC’s cold weather.

After just one year Hank has learned many behaviors that help the animal care staff take care of him; he can open his mouth, show his paw pads, and sit still at a station. He enjoys showing off these behaviors at the 10:30 a.m. demos (when it’s warm enough for him to be outside). He just recently started blood-sleeve training. That means he places his arm in a sleeve that extends out from his enclosure for vet staff to draw blood without having to anesthetize him. He is learning this new behavior very quickly and seems to really enjoy his training sessions.

Hank loves climbing! Inside and out! He has a couple small climbing structures in his indoor habitat. The animal care staff hope to build more climbing structures in the bears’ indoor habitats especially since they spend a lot of time indoors during the cold winter weather.

December 15, 2013

Hank is not only a daring adventurer, he's also a budding musician! This section of fire hose makes a great sound—like a tuba—and is one of his favorite toys. You can help keep all the animals at the Zoo busy with toys and other enrichment by donating to the Enrichment Giving Tree.

September 19, 2013

Our energetic sloth bear cub Hank is nine months old today! He enjoys exploring on his own and testing the limits with Hana and his keepers, but he’s not yet fully independent from mom.The duo continues to have long play sessions, followed by naps. Hank now weighs in at around 90 pounds, so even though he tries to ride on her back, Hana no longer allows him to climb aboard. Hank is eating a full diet and nursing from Hana occasionally. It’s a way for him to bond with mom and is important for his emotional development.

Ever since Hana first brought Hank out of the den, when he was around two or three months old, keepers have been building trust and training him to participate in medical exams. On the day of his first exam, Hank voluntarily separated from Hana for a while, allowing keepers and veterinary staff to conduct a full exam. Keepers are now training him to show his paws, open his mouth, and stand up to show his belly, which allows keepers to examine him and help him stay healthy.

Our sloth bears tend to be more active in spring and fall and really enjoy people-watching when the crowds pick up. If you are interested in seeing the Zoo’s sloth bears in action, visit Asia Trail at 10:30 every morning to watch a feeding and training demonstration!

Photo by Mark Van Bergh, FONZ Photo Club

July 23, 2013

Hank has been very active in the yard despite the heat. It’s not unusual to see him running all over the yard, climbing every tree, and then playing in the pool. After about an hour or two running around the yard in the morning he and Hana normally settle down for a nap in the shade of the doorway.

Hank is growing quickly, currently weighing in at about 26 kilograms (about 57 pounds). We’re noticing Hana is being less tolerant of him riding on her back. No surprise given how big he’s getting and how hot is must be to have such a big cub lying on your back! Hank has also been entertaining visitors at demo; he’s still perfecting his technique for sucking insects through the termite mounds.

Hank in a tree

Photo by Janice Sveda, FONZ Photo Club

July 2, 2013

Hank is doing really well in the exhibit. He has explored a lot of it, but not yet all of it. The exhibit is gigantic, especially compared to a 6-month-old sloth bear. He explores a little more of the exhibit each day. He put his feet in the pool several days ago, and he’s already figured out how to use the termite mounds to get food.

Hank is very brave, but Hana’s a little wary, so she keeps a sharp eye on him. Every day, they get a little more comfortable with the exhibit.

Hank and Hana

Photo by Barbara Statas, FONZ Photo Club

June 20, 2013

The daring and adventurous sloth bear cub, Hank, made his public debut at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo today. He is the first sloth bear born at the Zoo in seven years. Born December 19, 2012, Hank and his mother Hana have spent the past six months in a den near the Asia Trail exhibit. Now that he is adept at climbing, the Zoo’s animal care staff are confident he can conquer the yard’s complex climbing structures and varied terrain. Visitors can see the family on Asia Trail daily from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., weather permitting.

“Sloth bears in general are full of personality, but watching Hank explore and play in his yard is especially endearing,” said animal keeper Mindy Babitz. “Only 18 zoos in the U.S. exhibit this species, so visitors are in for a rare and special treat watching him grow up.”

Via the live Sloth Bear Cub Cam on the Zoo’s website, animal care staff and the public have had the opportunity to watch Hank play, grow and ride on his mother’s back. Keepers will share the information gathered with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for the benefit of other institutions that exhibit and want to breed this species. Hank is one of seven sloth bear cubs born to the North American SSP this year, and his birth increases the population in human care by three percent.

Last month, the Zoo’s Facebook fans voted to name the cub Hank, a moniker that combines the cub’s parents’ names, Hana and Francois. Keepers have spent the last few months training Hank and teaching him behaviors that will help animal care staff evaluate his health, such as presenting body parts and opening his mouth. The Zoo will continue to share the latest updates and photos of the cub on Facebook and Twitter.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists sloth bears as vulnerable because populations in their native Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka are decreasing due to loss of habitat and poaching.

May 3, 2013

baby bear clinging to cage with keeper looking on

In a poll conducted on the Zoo’s Facebook page, 830 fans elected to name the cub Hank, a moniker that combines the cubs’ parents’ names, Hana and Francois. “Hank” proved to be more popular than “Ravi” or “Bandar,” which received 615 and 219 votes, respectively. It’s important for Hank to know his name now that keepers have started training sessions. They’ve spent the last few weeks teaching him behaviors that will help animal care staff evaluate his health. The family’s public debut will take place later this summer.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists sloth bears as vulnerable because populations in their native Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka are decreasing due to loss of habitat and poaching.

April 4, 2013

Our 15 week-old sloth bear cub had a check up yesterday, and he received a clean bill of health! Veterinarians examined his eyes, mouth and nose; they listened to his heart and lungs; and they checked his limbs and feet. He also received his first vaccinations.

As a treat for cooperating for the exam he received some honey water in a bottle from one of his keepers.

Photo: Tallie Wiles, Smithsonian's National Zoo.

March 26, 2013

Asia Trail curator and keeper staff have determined the sex of our 3-month-old sloth bear cub: it’s a boy! Keepers report that the cub is quite daring and adventurous; he will balance himself atop wobbly enrichment toys (such as logs and boomer balls) and has recently taken to climbing the mesh in his enclosure. However, Hana is always nearby to carry him down to ground level if he climbs too high for her liking.

February 12, 2013

We’re so glad you’re enjoying watching our bear cub cams, both Andean and sloth! We’re thrilled to be able to share this experience with you. Very few people have ever gotten to observe maternal behavior and cub development in these early weeks and months in the den, so this experience is as exciting for us as it is for you. We hope you’ve been able to follow along on your computer, but also on your mobile devices using our app. And we so appreciate those of you who have snapped and shared screenshots with us!

As you’ve probably noticed, as all three cubs are getting larger, they’re getting more mobile. Billie Jean routinely takes her cubs out of the den for small excursions, and all three cubs seem to be trying out their legs. Before long, the cubs will start to explore beyond their den on their own. Which means we’ll be trying to get photos of them, and if we are successful then we will share them with you! Unfortunately, it also means they won’t be as consistently visible on the cams as they have been.

Several of you have asked about vet exams. The vet exams all depend on the mother bears. Billie Jean and Hana each have to feel comfortable being separated from their cubs for short times in order for animal care staff to conduct the cub exams. This is even more difficult in Hana’s case, as sloth bears cubs ride on their mothers’ backs. When we are able to conduct the exams, you can be sure we’ll keep you updated and share all the adorable photos.

We also hope that, when the cubs begin to go outside this spring, you’ll be able to come to the Zoo and see them in person!

February 10, 2013

It’s clear from watching the Sloth Bear Cam that this little cub has a lot of personality—just like Hana! It’s not unusual to see the two playing: she will roll on her back and hug the cub, paw at him/her, and exhibit a “play face” (her mouth is open and her lower lip is loose rather than taut).

At 7 weeks old, the cub is still pretty uncoordinated. But that doesn’t stop him/her from playfully nipping at Hana’s fur, neck, and face. The cub’s not on the move quite yet, but it’s getting the hang of using its back legs to propel itself forward. In a few weeks, the cub should be climbing aboard mom’s back.

sloth bear cub den screenshot

January 30, 2013

Hana and the cub continue to do well! Keepers are seeing the cub sit up more but it still hasn’t tried to climb onto Hana’s back. Hana leaves the den more frequently and eats small snacks on a daily basis, but she still spends the majority of her time in the den with the cub. We occasionally see Hana sitting next to the cub or going into the tunnel connecting the den to her outer enclosure, coming back to nuzzle the cub briefly, and then repeating. We wonder if she’s teaching that it’s okay when mom leaves because she’ll always come back? The cub is certainly becoming calmer when she leaves the den and not screaming at the top of its lungs like it did during those first few weeks!

January 19, 2013

Time flies: Our sloth bear cub is one month old today! Hana continues to be very attentive to him or her, and keepers are still monitoring the pair closely through their closed-circuit cam. Because the cub’s dark hair is growing quickly, it’s getting tougher to spot. (If it turns just so, the white patch of fur on its chest gives its location away!)

Even if keepers can’t always see the cub nursing, they can hear that distinctive suckling sound as well as some typical squeaks and squawks. On occasion, they spot Hana and cub pawing at each other as though they are playing! Exercising those limbs is important, and the cub is almost on the go! It can push itself up using it’s front legs, but it has not yet mastered using its back legs. It will be another few weeks before it’s fully crawling and climbing aboard mom’s back.

December 21, 2012

Forget two turtle doves—we’ve got two bearing bears! Our 18-year-old sloth bear Hana gave birth to a single cub around 8:30 a.m. on December 19, 2012—which happens to be her birthday, too! Animal care staff are keeping a close watch on the cub through a closed-circuit TV camera, and it appears both bears are doing great. Mom is very attentive, and the cub has successfully nursed. If the cub thrives, it will be a few months before it goes on exhibit. On warm winter days, Zoo visitors can watch the cub’s father, Francois, sunning himself on Asia Trail.