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Five 'moms' raising zoo's sloth bear cub

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WASHINGTON (WJLA) - It's nap time and the National Zoo's sloth bear cub is finally learning to self-soothe after months of sleepless nights for its five mothers.

Photo by Rebecca McDevitt

"I think all of us were sitting here in the middle of the night in the rocking chair singing to her trying to get her to go to sleep," explained Mindy Babitz, an animal keeper.

The keepers-turned-"bear moms"-say the yet-to-be named three-month-old is a handful. The cub had to be pulled from its mother a week after its December 29th birth. Khali, the mother, had ingested one of her cubs.

"That's actually very natural behavior for carnivores if mom or cub are compromised in some way," said Babitz.

But when Khali consumed a second cub, the Zoo took action.

The keepers don't know why Khali did it. The mother sloth bear has raised two cubs before. But this time she was acting strangely and neglecting her cubs. When they pulled the third cub, it was hypothermic and had to be warmed up in an incubator. The keepers searched for a substitute bear mom, but couldn't find one. So they began hand-rearing with guidance from other zoos.

So far, the cub has been growing and gaining weight. The surrogate mothers are with the cub around the clock - playing, encouraging and bottle-feeding her formula.

"I think the first time I held her in my arms after a feed and she started humming that was like the most incredible thing," said Babitz.

A sloth bear cub typically spends several years with its mother, but the keepers know they can't be "bear moms" forever. If they can't place the cub back with its mother, they'll try introducing the cub to its father, Francois.

The cub should be on exhibit to the public this summer.

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