Staff Reporter

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It was a familiar sight that greeted zoo officials in the bear enclosure on Monday morning. The sloth bear cub born on Saturday was found dead inside the moat that rings the enclosure.

It was with a mixture of joy and anxiety that the zoo greeted the birth of a cub to Priya, a sloth bear brought from Hyderabad in 2003. The bear gave birth inside the moat and kept covering the cub with its body whenever anyone went near the enclosure.

On Sunday, animal keepers tied together tarpaulin sheets to shield the mother and cub from rain. Late that evening, part of the sheets gave way in the rain, soaking the mother and cub. On Monday morning, the cub was found half-buried in the mud inside the moat.

This was the longest that any cub born to Priya had lived. The bear was pregnant, though unknown to zoo officials, when brought to the zoo. The stress of the journey led to an abortion. In 2006, Priya again gave birth and promptly proceeded to kill all the three cubs. Of the two cubs born to her in 2007, one died soon after birth. The then zoo vet took away the other cub in an attempt to prevent it from being killed. After a few days when Priya had calmed down, the cub was reintroduced in the enclosure. She killed it instantly.

C.J. Chandra, veterinarian, who conducted the post-mortem examination of the cub on Monday, told The Hindu here that the carcass had putrefied by the time the autopsy was done. “The cub must have died some time late on Sunday evening,” he said.

Dr. Chandra said the bear should have been isolated prior to giving birth. Then, the animal would not have gone down into the moat.

“After the mating, you can calculate when the delivery would take place. If the bear has the peace and quiet for the delivery, the chances are that she will take care of the cub. Here, you have people walking by, speaking, tying tarpaulin sheets … all these induce stress in the animal and her temperament will change as a consequence. Actually, the enclosure is ill-suited to house the bear, particularly a bear that is about to give birth,” he said.

Stressful situation

According to sources in the zoo, the reason for Priya’s repeated violent behaviour soon after she gave birth in 2006 and 2007 could be stress induced by human presence near the enclosure. “This is true not just for bears, but for all animals. Top officials of the zoo have not been successful in ensuring privacy for animals that have given birth,” a source said.

On October 11, the zoo lost a male bear, Ravi, brought to the zoo from a circus company in 1994. The animal was aged over 30.