Toronto Zoo officials have announced the deaths of two polar bear cubs who were born last week with a third cub who had already died. The mother bear, an 11-year-old mother named Aurora, also lost three cubs born last year.
Despite the fact that one of the cubs in her recent litter died shortly after being born, the births were initially viewed as a success by the zoo. Aurora had not ignored or killed the cubs immediately after birth. Last October, Aurora gave birth to three cubs, immediately killing one and refusing to care for the other two. They died soon after.
“Zoo staff are disappointed by this latest development in the polar bear breeding program. However it does demonstrate, positively, that Aurora’s maternal instinct was finally kicking in and she was learning to be a mother,” read a statement released on Monday by the Toronto Zoo.
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“The fact that Aurora was doing everything right this time is a huge step in the right direction . . . Given that polar bear cubs are born so small and undeveloped, there are many possibilities of what could have happened,” added Maria Franke, the zoo’s curator of mammals.
Zoo officials have yet to say what they believe caused the deaths of the two cubs on Sunday, confirming that post mortem tissue samples have been sent out for analysis.
Keeping polar bears in captivity is controversial. Critics argue that, considering polar bears are the widest ranging terrestrial mammal on earth, no replicated environment in a zoo can adequately satisfy the range of biological and behavioral needs of a polar bear.
A critically endangered species, with an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears believed to remain in the wild, the massive predators have seen their habitat shrink consistently in recent decades due in part to the thinning of artic ice, according to some experts.
Of the five nations that support polar bear populations, Canada has approximately 60 percent of the world’s population.
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