Why Are Baby Animals Dying at the National Zoo?

None

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 04: Two of four new cheetah cubs, born November 23, 2004, lean against their mother Tumai during a preview showing at the National Zoo February 4, 2005 in Washington DC. The four cheetah cubs, each of which currently weighs about 10 pounds, will go on public display February 5th. 
National Journal
Clare Foran Patrick Reis
April 2, 2014, 1 a.m.

The Na­tion­al Zoo has a hor­ri­fy­ing tale to tell.

In late Decem­ber, one of the zoo’s sloth bears gave birth to three cubs. But then — in a grue­some turn — the moth­er ate two of her cubs with­in a week of their birth, for­cing zoo­keep­ers to res­cue the third.

The cub deaths, first made pub­lic in late March, were the latest in a string of widely pub­li­cized an­im­al fatal­it­ies at the in­sti­tu­tion. The zoo lost two ante­lopes in the past year when the an­im­als ran head­long in­to en­clos­ure walls. And two of four chee­tah cubs died dur­ing child­birth in April 2012 at the zoo’s Con­ser­va­tion Bio­logy In­sti­tute in Vir­gin­ia.

The highest-pro­file death of all ar­rived a few months later, in Septem­ber, when the zoo an­nounced the birth of a baby panda — a rare feat among the fam­ously hes­it­ant-to-breed bears — only to have the in­fant die six days later. (The zoo has had more suc­cess since and is now home to the 7-month-old panda cub Bao Bao, which ven­tured out­side for the time Tues­day.)

With the spate of deaths — and giv­en the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the death of the sloth bear cubs — one may be temp­ted to ques­tion if the zoo is to blame. But the truth, bio­lo­gists say, is more dis­turb­ing: The nat­ur­al king­dom is a rough, bru­tal, and fatal place, even in con­trolled en­vir­on­ments like zoos, and even for spe­cies that are cute and cuddly.

“Car­ni­vores will some­times eat their young,” Pamela Baker-Mas­son, a spokes­wo­man for the zoo, said when asked about the fate of the sloth bear cubs. “There are a lot of reas­ons why this might hap­pen.”

So what would pos­sess a par­ent to eat its off­spring?

Ac­cord­ing to Na­tion­al Zoo cur­at­or Tony Barthel, it all boils down to evol­u­tion. If a bear cub dies, the an­im­al car­cass left be­hind could at­tract pred­at­ors. It also makes a meal. As a res­ult, the moth­er may eat its young to pro­tect it­self and the rest of the lit­ter.

“If a bear thinks its off­spring is dy­ing, it will of­ten aban­don the cub, and usu­ally when they’re young, that in­volves con­sum­ing them,” Barthel said. “That might sound cruel but an­im­als can’t af­ford to need­lessly waste re­sources. It’s part of nature.”

It’s dif­fi­cult to say how of­ten this oc­curs — either in cap­tiv­ity or in the wild — be­cause bears typ­ic­ally give birth in se­cluded areas.

The de­mise of the Smith­so­ni­an bear cubs — ad­ded to oth­er an­im­al deaths at the zoo due to ill­ness or in­jury — have made head­lines. Zoo of­fi­cials, however, note that they have not had a high­er than nor­mal rate of in­cid­ents. In­stead, the deaths have come among high­er pro­file fauna.

“We have not had a spike in an­im­al deaths,” Baker-Mas­son said. “Deaths hap­pen here for lots of dif­fer­ent reas­ons, and many of them are due to nat­ur­al causes.”

And in the sad story of the sloth bear cubs, there is a sil­ver lin­ing.

The third cub, which zoo keep­ers res­cued, is now re­ceiv­ing around-the-clock care at the in­sti­tu­tion — a situ­ation that has cre­ated a unique op­por­tun­ity for keep­ers to get to know the cub.

“She’s pretty ram­bunc­tious,” Barthel said. “And she seems to be thriv­ing. She’s en­er­get­ic and ex­plor­ing more and more of her en­clos­ure each day.”

Cur­at­ors plan to gradu­ally re­in­tro­duce the cub to oth­er bears at the zoo and hope that she can one day live on her own in cap­tiv­ity.

“We share everything that goes on here. There are won­der­ful stor­ies and tra­gic ones and that can cer­tainly draw a lot of at­ten­tion to the zoo,” Barthel said. “In this case you have this re­si­li­ent cub but you also have this sad real­ity and that re­minds us all how tough life in the wild can be.”

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
3 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
3 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
3 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
7 REPUBLICANS ON STAGE
Carly Fiorina Will Not Be Allowed to Debate on Saturday
2 days ago
THE LATEST

ABC News has announced the criteria for Saturday’s Republican debate, and that means Carly Fiorina won’t be a part of it. The network is demanding candidates have “a top-three finish in Iowa, a top-six standing in an average of recent New Hampshire polls or a top-six placement in national polls in order for candidates to qualify.” And there will be no “happy hour” undercard debate this time. “So that means no Fiorina vs. Jim Gilmore showdown earlier in the evening for the most ardent of campaign 2016 junkies.

Source:
×