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In mid-June, two young sloth bears born at the Idaho Falls Zoo will be moving on to a new home at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas. The move is a necessary part of a long-term population management strategy developed by the Sloth Bear Species Survival Plan (SSP) through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
The SSP is a coordinated effort among AZA accredited zoos to manage and maintain a healthy and genetically diverse population of sloth bears that can serve as an insurance against possible threats to wild populations. Sloth bears are native to India and some adjacent countries and are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
The cubs, Molly and Tess, were born December 12, 2019. At birth, they were very small (about 1 pound), and like puppies or kittens were blind and helpless. They did not venture out of their den until they were several months old. Now a year-and-a-half old, Molly now weighs in at 200 pounds while Tess is a bit smaller at 170 pounds. Sloth bears are medium sized among the bear species and will reach full adult weight of 300-350 pounds when they are about 3 years old. In the wild, sloth bears are solitary and young bears typically leave or are forced away by their mother during their second summer, which for Molly and Tess is right about now.
Most large carnivores are solitary, and part of their normal lifecycle is leaving their parents to start new lives elsewhere,” says Idaho Falls Zoo General Curator Darrell Markum. “As an accredited zoo, we’re proud to be part of supporting the conservation of this incredible species and are excited to see Molly and Tess move onto their next phase of life.”
These cubs are the third litter produced by parents Priya and Mick at Idaho Falls Zoo. The parents arrived in Idaho Falls in April 2009. The father, Mick, was born at Zoo Miami and came to Idaho following a stay at the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas. The mother, Priya, was born at the Sunset Zoo so her cubs will be returning to mother’s hometown. Mick is currently 21 years old while Priya is 11.
The Sloth Bear SSP has made a recommendation for this pair to breed again in 2021. While Mick is easy-going, Priya is a very protective mother so the couple must be separated when she has cubs. In the wild, sloth bears would come together only to breed and then immediately separate. After the cubs leave, the adults will be put back together and with any luck more cubs should be born in December or January.
Your last chance to see Molly and Tess will be the weekend of June 12. Stop by the Idaho Falls Zoo and wish the girls well on their new adventure!