"Ladies Man" Returns to National Zoo

Move over pandas, Mr. Bon Vivant is back in town!

By Nancy Norman
|  Thursday, Jun 3, 2010  |  Updated 6:44 AM EDT
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What sloth bear of the female persuasion could resist a male sloth bear with the sexy French name “Francois?”

The National Zoo is betting their new resident will be quite a hit with the ladies.  Francois is quite a hunky 260 pounds. And he’s still a frisky teenager at 19.

His father, Merlin, who passed away last year, was quite a catch.  He had seven cubs here at the National Zoo.  Francois was one of them.  But the Little Rock Zoo needed a romantic sloth bear, and so he was sent to Arkansas to be part of their breeding program.

All you summer zoo goers, watch out. He’s back! 

“He is just as playful and seems to enjoy interacting with the keepers, just like Merlin did,” said Jilian Fazio, an animal keeper in the Asia Trail habitat.  “He also sits Buddha-style in the same way.  And he is definitely interested in the sloth bear ladies.”

Things could get very sweet around the National Zoo.  Keepers hope Francois, or Frankie, as his friends call him, will fall for 15-year-old Hana. And if they have cubs, it will be too cute.  Sloth bears carry their cubs on their backs.  Pandas beware.  A baby sloth bear riding piggyback around Asia Trail might usurp your thunder.

“Francois is an ambassador for his wild counterparts -- not just wild sloth bears, but all Asia animals whose populations are declining due to habitat loss, poaching  and trade in animal parts,” said animal keeper Mindy Babitz.

So let’s hope there is chemistry between Francois and Hana.  Meanwhile, he has a new best friend.  His father’s “ex,” 10-year-old Khali, will be his buddy.  She doesn’t breed but can be a real pal.  And that’s just what Francois needs as he is settling in back here in Washington. 

In the wild, sloth bears are native to India, Sri Lanka and Nepal.  They have long, curved claws and lengthy snouts.  And a bonus to living at the National Zoo is that in addition to the ants and termites they crave, they will get fresh fruit and other healthy treats.

If you want to see how Francois and the rest of the sloth gang is doing at the National Zoo -- and give him tips on how to win Hana’s heart -- you can see a feeding demonstration every day at 11:30 a.m.

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