Ten year old, Aurora, gave birth to three cubs more than a month early. At first all appeared to go well, but shortly after birth she turned on them and attacked, supposedly devouring one and leaving the other two in critical condition.
The Zoologists at Toronto Zoo managed to intervene and rescue the other two. The Toronto Star stated the Zoologists are hand feeding the two in intensive care, but Care2 reported one them died from injuries.
The Star stated:
According to a Toronto Zoo press release, the two surviving cubs are recovering in intensive care, receiving “round the clock care” by zoo veterinarians and wildlife care staff.
“We are hopeful that they will both get stronger but they are far from being out of the woods at this time,” the release said, adding that both cubs will be “hand-raised.”
According to the Star, Aurora and her sister, Nikita, were found wandering as cubs after a hunter supposedly killed their mother in 2001. In 2002, Toronto Zoo the sisters were loaned to a polar bear habitat in Ohio, due to not enough space at the zoo, but in 2009 the habitat returned them to the zoo.
The zoo supposedly stated they do not know why she attacked her cubs, but University of British Columbia zoologist, Wayne Goodey said the stress of captivity could have caused the mother to turn on her babies.
“It's not uncommon in captive, stressful situations,” he said, pointing to experiments where lab rats and mice ate their young when placed in stressful situations.
Goodey also said he had never heard of a mother polar bear eating her cubs, with most situations involving male bears eating cubs as a source of food in the wilderness.
According to Care2, Aurora’s violent behaviour towards her cubs might be a natural reaction to the possibility of little survival for them since they were premature. Care2 stated that most cubs are born in late November or December. Aurora gave birth to her cubs on October 11 and Care2 believes she detected an abnormality in them, thus chose to kill them.
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.
Whether one or two of the cubs are still alive in intensive care at the zoo, Aurora is fine, but cub-less in her zoo home, thanks to the quick actions of the Zoologists. Neither Care2 nor the Star reported Aurora facing any extreme charges by the zoo for her actions towards her cubs.
If Aurora were human, she would face child abuse and first-degree murder charges, if not a mental institution for eating one of her cubs. As a bear in captivity, it is good that the zoo did not choose to give her the death penalty for her violent behaviour towards her cubs. All she lost was her babies, which in the wild the success of her killing her cubs and still being cub-less is great. The outcome is still the same, whether the zoo veterinarians rescued and save the cubs’ lives or not, except in captivity, they might still live with the zoo’s help. They just will not live with their mother, who does not have the excuse of post-partum depression or "the devil made me do it".