Aurora, a female polar bear at the Toronto Zoo, has had a litter of three cubs die but seemed to accept her role as their mother, the zoo said Monday, Dec. 10, in a release.
The maternal behaviour is significant because the 11-year-old bear violently rejected another trio of her newborn cubs last year, killing two.
Zoo staff said the new litter was born last Thursday, and while one of the premature cubs died immediately, Aurora seemed to be nurturing and nursing the other two. By Sunday morning, though, those cubs had also died, for reasons the zoo said are unclear.
“The fact that Aurora was doing everything right this time is a huge step in the right direction,” Curator of Mammals Maria Franke said in the release. “Little is known about polar bear births and rearing in the wild and it is possible that young female bears gain experience over time before successfully raising their young.”
Last year’s litter was very premature, and after Aurora’s rejection staff managed to save and hand-raise a male cub, later named Hudson.
The cub grew from 1.5 pounds at birth to 215 pounds by August and has been a popular attraction on the zoo’s Tundra Trek. On Oct. 13, staff and visitors celebrated Hudson’s first birthday.
While disappointed by the latest losses, staff involved in the polar bear breeding program say Aurora showed “maternal instinct was finally kicking in and she was learning to be a mother.”
Polar bears face an uncertain future and the zoo says captive breeding provides information that can help the species survive in the wild.