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Sloth Bears Updates Dec 30, 2014

Happy birthday to sloth bear cub Remi! With the help of a dedicated group of biologists, keepers, veterinarians and nutritionists, hand-reared cub Remi made it through her first year and is thriving, weighing in at 125 lbs. Keepers describe Remi as smart, goofy, and social.

Remi is one of three sloth bear cubs born December 29, 2013 to mom Khali and dad François and was the only cub that survived longer than seven days. Khali ingested the first two cubs soon after giving birth; it is not uncommon for carnivores to consume their cubs if the mother or cubs is compromised in some way, such as from illness. Animal keepers made the difficult decision to pull Remi from her mom and took on the responsibility of hand-rearing. A team of curators and keeper staff became surrogate sloth bear "moms" and "dads," doing everything from round-the-clock bottle feedings to carrying Remi in a baby sling to simulate the contact she would have had with a mother bear.

When keepers pulled Remi from her mom, she was hypothermic and weak. Over time, animal care staff nursed her back to health. Now, keepers report she is in great health! "Remi has grown and matured an incredible amount in her first year," said sloth bear keepers Stacey Tabellario and Mindy Babitz. "As a hand-reared cub, she's at a disadvantage because she does not have a bear mom to teach her how to be a bear. She has to approach each new situation on her own and figure out how to navigate it herself." When meeting unfamiliar people or being introduced to other bears it takes a bit longer for Remi to become comfortable than a mother-reared cub would. However, Remi is making progress.

While keepers can no longer be in an enclosure with Remi, they still spend about 10 hours a day with the cub. Most days and nights, Remi is cohabitating with her father, Fran?ois. Socializing with Fran?ois allows her to learn species-appropriate behaviors through social learning—learning behaviors through observation and modeling. "Remi breaks into many enrichment and food items in exactly the same way Fran?ois does," keepers said.

Weighing in at about 125 lbs., Remi is on an adult diet of fruit and kibble, and started snacking on mealworms and crickets. "She took her time with weaning and wasn't interested in insects for a long time, but she's finally eating like an adult now," keepers report. Now that she knows how to suck mealworms through enrichment demonstration tubes made from PVC pipe like the other National Zoo sloth bears, keepers hope she can participate in public demonstrations by next spring!

Behavior and enrichment training began for Remi at a very young age. "She learned behaviors that help us take care of her like getting on the scale, showing us her paw pads, opening her mouth, and even letting us give her injections," said keepers. Remi continues to give keepers a laugh by interacting with her toys and enrichment in new, creative ways and being silly like sloth bear cubs do!