Sloth Bears Updates Jul 01, 2014

July 01, 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.