Zoo Polar Bear Turns on Her Newborns

More than a month before they were due, three polar bear cubs slipped into the world of the Toronto Zoo. Aurora, the new mother, turned on them, devouring one and injuring the others before zoo staff could intervene. One of the survivors died. The last is being nursed by staff.

Aurora started her life as an orphan, her mother shot by a hunter. She and her twin, Nikita, were found in 2001 in Ontario’s Polar Bear Provincial Park and have spent the last decade in captivity.

From 2002 to 2009 they lived in polar habitat in northern Ontario. When the zoo completed a large enough enclosure for them, they were transferred back.

University of British Columbia zoologist Wayne Goodey said the stress of captivity may have contributed to the attack. Lab rats and mice in stressful situations sometimes eat their young. Goodney is not aware of a polar bear mother in the wild eating her cubs, though male bears in need of food sometimes do.

As horrifying as it sounds, Aurora’s act may have been a natural response to cubs with little chance of survival. Polar bears generally give birth in late November or December. These were born October 11th. While the cubs may have looked viable to onlookers, Aurora may have detected weakness or abnormality. Our non-human neighbors make decisions about newborns differently. Nurturing young unlikely to reach maturity is an emotional decision only we humans have the resources to make.

In 2006, twin bear cubs were born at the Berlin Zoological Garden. Their mother rejected them, and one died four days after birth. The little survivor was kept in an incubator for 44 days and then bottle fed. Zoo visitors were delighted with baby Knut, but at the age of four he had a spasm and drowned. The brain problems that killed him were likely present at birth and worsened over time.

Whatever the case for Aurora and her three cubs, the mother is doing fine. So is the one surviving cub, at least for now.

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Photo from sly06 via Flickr Creative Commons

182 comments

Miriam N.
Miriam N.4 years ago

I believe the author's idea that "Aurora’s act may have been a natural response to cubs with little chance of survival" , as they were born before their time. I also believe the limiting surroundings could be another reason. Evil is a human prerogative...

Marlene Dinkins
Marlene Dinkins4 years ago

its sad to loose the babies baby cub, its sad to loose any newborn. but polar bears are good mothers, only god kows. i also think they are mothers, and they know what they doing.

Patti Rogers
Patti Rogers4 years ago

I believe this mother knows more then we will ever know. The early birth and stress of captivity played a part in her turning on her new born without a dough! We need to stop being able to put wild animals in captivity! It's so not fair to any animal to be caged instead of living there life free as God's plans...just ask anyone in prison what it's like to be caged!

mary l.
mary l.4 years ago

How sad all because of HUNTERS taking her mothers life and she never got to experience her mothers love and care.

Cathy Noftz
Cathy Noftz4 years ago

~Don't mess with Mother Nature!!~

Terri Hughes
Terri Hughes4 years ago

Sad that this happened, But, the blame goes back to PEOPLE. They put these poor animals in cages for years. They are profit for these sorry, greedy people. It's no surprise that this happens. If you where locked in a cage or confined to a small area for years, you would go crazy, too. Don't blame animals for the STUPIDITY of humans. Animals need to be in the wild, this is there home. Greedy people will NEVER learn!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

terri a.
terri armao4 years ago

the hunter that killed her mother should be fined and jailed for leaving two orphaned polar bears. she probably doesn't know how to be a mother since her was murdered while she was so young.

Jane L.
Jane L.4 years ago

I would agree with Patrick F: the mother probably doesn't want her babies to be born in a captive environment, the way she was raised, so she opted to kill them.

SeattleAnn S.
Ann S.4 years ago

Hopefully, it wasn't the stress of captivity but instead the latter possibility of natural selection. Hard to tell these days though, since humans are ruining the homes/lives of these great and beautiful polar bears.

Marieanne Phillips

Oh no.