A pair of Andean bear cubs has been born at the Smithsonian National Zoo. 8 year old Andean bear, Billie Jean gave birth to one of the cubs on November 10 and the other on November 11. The birth had been eagerly anticipated after the zoo announced the cubs had been seen on an ultrasound on November 6.
The zoo’s male Cisco who is 21 came to the zoo last year from the Queens Wildlife Centre following a recommendation by the Species Survival Plan that he breed with Billie Jean.
Billie Jean has so far shown good mothering skills as her keeper, Karen Abbot said, “ Billie Jean is once again proving herself to be an attentive mother.”
The cubs are not yet on display as Abbot explained, “Right now, the best support we can give the family is to watch them from a distance and provide Billie Jean with a peaceful, quiet spot to nurse and bond with her young.” To allow for this keepers have set up a closed circuit TV camera so they can watch the cubs.
This has shown the cubs to be noisy and active. While they are cautiously optimistic keepers are aware that there is no guarantee the cubs will survive. 41% of males and 44% of females will die within the first year of being born.
These cubs are another exciting birth for the Smithsonian National Zoo. Only four litters of Andean bears have been born in North American zoos over the past 9 years. National Zoo has had great success with this species with 3 of the litters being born there. Keepers believe Billie Jean will use the same maternal instincts that saw Bernardo, Curt, Chaska and Nicole survive from the past 2 litters. As so little bears have been born in captivity the National Zoo makes records of their development so they can share this information with other zoos.
Keepers are still unaware of just when Billie Jean became pregnant. After mating the egg takes time to implant in the uterine wall and begin developing. This can take many months following mating. Veterinarians first discovered the cubs on an ultrasound in October this year. In about 2 months’ time the keepers will be able to check the bear’s gender.
While these 2 cubs and Billie Jean are off exhibit Cisco and 2 cubs from previous litters are on show at the zoo.
Photo Credit: Smithsonian National Zoo