A female Sulawesi bear cuscus (Ailurops ursinus) has given birth to a baby at Wroclaw Zoo in southeast Poland. This is the very first one to be born in captivity, and it's said to be thriving.
Even more adorably, the arrival was entirely unexpected. Staff only found out the baby existed when they noticed movements in the mother’s pouch weeks – possibly months – after the birth.
"It must have been a couple of weeks, or even months, after it was born that we noticed something moving inside the female's pouch and then, a tail popped out!" director of the zoo, Radoslaw Ratajszczak, told the AFP via telephone.
But it gets cuter still. Staff say the baby was likely born six months ago, at which point it was probably only the size of a small bean. Like all marsupials, the Sulawesi bear cuscus gives birth to an underdeveloped infant, which is little more than a fetus. After exiting the mother's birth canal, the infant drags itself to the pouch where it stays for eight months or so until it is developed enough to survive outside the mother's body.
When fully grown, it is expected to reach 61 centimeters (24 inches) from snout to tail and weigh between 7 and 10 kilograms (15 and 22 pounds). It has a thick, dark (bear-like) coat – hence its name, despite the fact that it is not a bear at all – and a tail as long as its body.
The new addition brings the total number of Sulawesi bear cuscuses in Europe to six, three of which can be found at Wroclaw Zoo.
In its natural habitat, the Sulawesi bear cuscus can be found clambering through the upper canopies of the tropical rainforests of Sulawesi, an Indonesian island off the east coast of Borneo. They usually hang in groups of two, three, or four and spend their time munching on leaves. Sadly, this routine makes them easy to spot and sitting targets for hunters, who kill them for their meat.
"They are leaf eaters, staying exposed on large branches during the day and locals seem to find them tasty," Ratajszczak added. He said the zoo is planning to sponsor field research on the island to learn more about this rare and poorly understood creature. According to Ratajszczak, the Sulawesi bear cuscus has never before been studied in the wild.
All this hunting (in addition to deforestation) threatens the existence of the species, which is listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.
As for the baby, it is still waiting to be named. Staff at the zoo have not yet had the chance to get a good look – or even find out if it is a boy or a girl.
Birth of the baby Sulawesi bear cuscus. Wroclaw Zoo/YouTube