PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Zoo welcomed the first pair of sloth bear cubs born in its care in more than 30 years last month.
Sloth bear mom and dad Kayla and Bhalu, both 10, are now the parents of two new cubs after their Jan. 2 birth at the zoo.
Names for the cubs have not been chosen, their sexes have not been identified, and they will not be visible to the public until April, according to officials.
Kayla and her cubs are doing well and are under the watchful eyes of the zoo’s animal team.
Their births are also the second of the species in the last four year.
“Philadelphia Zoo is proud to participate in the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the threatened sloth bear,” Philadelphia Zoo Vice President of Animal Well-Being Rachel Metz said. “We are looking forward to sharing the developmental milestones of these amazing bear cubs with our guests.”
“We are thrilled to start off 2023 with these successful births,” Philadelphia Zoo Curator of Carnivores and Ungulates Maggie Morse said. “This was a collaborative effort from both our expert keepers and our veterinary team. Kayla has been trained by her keepers to do voluntary ultra sounds so we were able to keep the SSP updated with news of a successful pregnancy.”
Sloth bears are found in the lowland forests of India, Nepal and Sri Lanka and are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature with populations decreasing dramatically in recent decades due to habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict and poaching.
Sloth bears have several distinctive features and behaviors.
They have flexible snouts with protruding upper and lower lips and powerful lungs that allow them to dislodge and eat termites and ants that are 8 to 10 feet underground.
They can voluntarily close their nostrils to make sure no insects enter their nose. Aside from insects, sloth bears eat fruits, flowers and honey.
They also have long, dark shaggy fur with a distinct, cream-colored “U” or “Y” shaped marking on their chests. Adult males can weigh between 175 and 310 pounds.
Females are smaller and weigh 120 to 210 pounds.
A typical gestation for sloth bears is 6 to 7 months.
Like other bear species, sloth bears have delayed implantation, meaning that the fertilized egg does not attach to the uterine wall and start developing right away, and that delay is variable.
Sloth bears are small at birth, weighing only about a pound, and are essentially helpless, relying completely on their mother for care.
Mom will typically care for young for several months in a sheltered den before the cubs begin to emerge.
Cubs can begin walking on their own at about a month old.
At around 3 to 4 months, mom and cubs will emerge from the den, and unlike any other bear species, cubs will ride on mom’s back by clinging to her long fur.
Cubs will stay on mom’s back for about 6 months and nurse from mom for about a year, and remain with her for 2 to 3 years.
Father bears are not at all involved with infant care, or are even nearby in the wild.