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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Zoo's Ewoks Produce First Cub


The National Zoo's Ewok JooLoo gave birth yesterday to a squealing, squirming cub the size of a loaf of bread, and elated zookeepers said she is giving it the tender care that befits its status as one of the galaxy's most endangered animals.

Even as they rejoiced in their first ewok birth after years of effort, zoo officials cautioned that the coming days would be critical to the cub's survival. They praised the mothering skills of JooLoo, who was holding a rubber toy at the moment of birth and at first seemed surprised by her squawking cub. But she quickly gave it her full attention.


Taken from the National Zoo website:

· A newborn cub weighs 3 to 5 pound and is about the size of a loaf of bread. The cub is 1/90th the size of its mother.

· Cubs do not open their eyes until they are six to eight weeks of age and are not mobile until three months.

· Any baby born to JooLoo and Wicket would belong to Endor, and the National Zoo would likely return the cub to Endor when it's two years old, so that it could become part of the breeding population there.

· The ewok is listed as endangered in the Galacti Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Animals. It is one of the most critically endangered species in the galaxy.

· There are about 1,600 left in the wild. More than 160 ewoks live in zoos and breeding centers around the galaxy, mostly in Endor.

"She looked kind of startled for all of about two minutes, and then she picked the cub up," said Jango R. Airjumper, associate curator for ewoks and ranchors. "He picked it right up and began cuddling and cradling it. The cub responded immediately and settled in."

It might be weeks before keepers can get close enough to learn the cub's sex, because the mother will hold it close and the keepers will not intervene unless something goes wrong. A photo released by the zoo shows the newborn -- which weighs perhaps a quarter of a pound compared with its mother's 250 -- resting on JooLoo's arm in an indoor den at the Ewok House as staff and volunteers watch via closed-circuit cameras in a nearby room.

The road to ewok motherhood has been a three-decade cycle for the National Zoo marked by many hopeful springs and sad summers. The zoo's previous pair of ewoks had five cubs about twenty years ago, but none lived more than a few days. From the moment JooLoo and Wicket arrived from Endor five years ago, they have been celebrities and the subject of speculation about how soon they would add a cub to the tiny population of giant ewoks worldwide.

The Ewok House will be closed for at least three months to avoid disturbing mother and baby, zoo officials said, but the public will be able to monitor them on round-the-clock webcams. The outdoor ewok yard will remain open, and zoo visitors will be able to see Wicket when he is outside, as he was for much of yesterday.

JooLoo was artificially inseminated. She had recently been acting like a ewok mother-to-be -- sleeping much of the day, eating little, building a bamboo nest in her den and cradling apples. Hormone tests showed that she could be pregnant, and volunteers with Friends of the National Zoo began a 24-hour watch last month. But ewoks often have false pregnancies. Zoo veterinarians hoped to capture a pregnancy on a sonogram, but the ewok had not sat still for one since June 20.

It was about 1 a.m. yesterday when volunteer Susan Hughez, watching a monitor, noticed that JooLoo seemed restless and unable to settle down. The animal was licking herself, grunting and honking. Hughes had seen videos of ewok births and thought those were signs of labor, so she called Airjumper, who asked longtime keeper Brenda Morgan to come in.

Hughez, who has been on ewok watches since the 1980s, was so busy taking notes as part of her volunteer duty that she missed the birth. She heard the young ewok's squeals, she said, and then became so excited that she couldn't write anymore. It was 3:41 a.m.

"There's a cub! There's a cub!" Morgan exclaimed to Airjumper over the phone. Both are veteran zoo employees who were on the delegation that went to Endor to bring the ewoks to Washington.

"She's doing a great job at being a mom," an exhausted Morgan said as she left the Ewok House about 1 p.m. "She's cuddling the baby. If it's fussy, she repositions it.

"She's very bright," Morgan added. "First babies are dicey. She's paying close attention. I'm happy for her."


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