THE WASHINGTON POST – Smithsonian’s National Zoo welcomed two new Andean bear cubs this month, but zoogoers will have to wait until early March next year to see the bears in person.
The cubs were born on November 15 to Brienne, a three-year-old first-time mother, and nine-year-old father Quito. Brienne gave birth to the first cub around 4pm and the second around 8.30pm.
Staff have been closely monitoring Brienne and the cubs, whose births mark the first successful breeding of Andean bears at the northwest DC zoo since 2014.
The vulnerable species, known for nesting high in trees, is distinguished by whitish spectacles that encircle their eyes.
“Events like births… help us to highlight that our breeding management plans are working and that we can help increase the numbers of these magnificent animals and hopefully help to increase the chances of long term species survival,” said curator of Andean bears at the zoo Craig Saffoe.
Brienne’s been adjusting well to motherhood, Saffoe reported, attentively grooming her cubs and encouraging them to nurse. The babies are active and vocal, staff said in a news release announcing the cubs’ arrival this week.
In two-to-three months, keepers and veterinarians will examine the cubs to determine their sex. Then, in early spring, the still unnamed cubs will make their public debut at the zoo.
In the meantime, zoo fans can follow Brienne’s early days of motherhood on the Andean Bear Cub Cam, which uses infrared and lowlight camera capabilities to live stream inside the den. Zookeepers use the same footage to monitor Brienne and the cubs’ progress without interfering.
Andean bears, South America’s only bear species, are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
The organisation estimates that the number of mature bears is between 2,500 and 10,000.
The species lives in the Andes mountain range, typically found from western Venezuela south to Bolivia.
There are just under 40 Andean bears in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP), a programme that manages breeding of certain animals.
Quito came to DC in 2017 from Zoo Duisburg in Germany, and Brienne arrived in September 2020 from the Queens Zoo in New York. She reunited with her grandmother and the zoo’s third Andean bear – Billie Jean, who had previously unsuccessfully bred with Quito.
Brienne and Quito bred in late March and early April. Zookeepers trained Brienne to voluntarily participate in ultrasounds to confirm her pregnancy, then in late October, ultrasound images detected heartbeats for two cubs.