Sadness in Seattle: Rare sloth bear cubs die soon after birth at Woodland Park Zoo

Kushali, a 3-year-old sloth bear, gave birth two a pair of cubs just before Christmas at the Woodland Park Zoo. The first-time mother lost her first cub within 48 hours. The tiny bear just wasn’t viable. So, Kushali focused her attention on the surviving cub, nursing, cuddling and bonding with it.

But the Seattle-based facility announced Dec. 30 that that cub too has now died.

“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 a 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.”


Here is video of a cub soon after birth.

Zookeepers saw Kushali trying to wake the cub and she could be heard calling to it. Unfortunately, we may never know what exactly killed the cubs, according to Martin Ramirez, Woodland Park Zoo mammal curator.

“Because it is a defense mechanism in this species to consume any dead offspring so as not to attract predators, we may never know the cause of death of either cub,” Ramirez said in a statement. “It was clear that Kushali, a first time mother, was attentive and showing all the appropriate maternal behaviors, so the cubs may have been born compromised in some way but that is speculation at this point. While we’re saddened by the loss of the cubs, we were encouraged to have seen Kushali doing everything she could to care for them.”

Kushali was born in December, 2012. She was a surprise to zookeepers, who didn’t know that her mother, had given birth to cubs until they spotted two little twin cubs on the den cam and heard two distinct vocalizations.

Officials are confident that because of her mother, Tasha, will be a “patient and wonderful sloth bear momma.” Here they are together when Kushali was young — and trying to hitch a ride.

Tasha, cub, riding on back

The zoo is confident one day have the chance to experience this again, but as a mother.

Here she is once again cuddling her cub.

slothbearholding cub

Sloth bears normally live in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, but their habitat is under threat and they are often victims of poaching. The bears are considered an endangered species with perhaps 10,000 left in the wild.

Photos Woodland Park Zoo/Facebook

About the author

Recovering newspaper reporter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.