Keeper Update, October 2009
Fall finds the National Zoo’s three Andean, or spectacled, bears enjoying the cooler weather. As their name suggests, these bears are native to the Andean range, which tends to have a cooler climate than ours here in Washington, D.C. Read on to learn about our Andean bears.
Bandit is our oldest Andean bear. She will be 33 on January 27, 2010. Not quite as active as our younger bears, she is best seen in her yard first thing in the morning, enjoying the cooler weather or, on some occasions, her morning food. Our bears are fed a diet that consists of a balanced chow for omnivores as well as fruits and vegetables. Twice a week, they get fish as well as beef bones. Bandit is the exception to this. She gets a small amount of fish every day, which we use for training.
Bandit’s advancing age has presented her keepers with some challenges. She is not wearing her nails down as she did when she was a younger bear. Last February we began a training program with the goal of getting her to present her paw to us and allow us to trim her nails. We took it very slowly but found her a willing participant. (Bandit is willing to do most anything for fish.) Bandit will now present either of her front paws on command and tolerate us clipping her nails. Her nails were so long that the process of cutting them has taken a while. We could only take a little off at each session. Now we have finally got her nails at an appropriate length and have put her on an every-other-week schedule for a “manicure.”
Nikki, our 17-year-old male Andean bear, has been a local media star because of his weight loss. He came to the Zoo about 150 pounds overweight. Being that much overweight put Nikki at risk for veterinary problems, so our Department of Nutrition put him on a gradual diet, which slowly reduced his weight to a much healthier level. As this happened, his keepers saw an increase in his activity level. Recently he was observed turning over rocks in his yard looking for and then eating insects.
At his current weight, keepers are seeing many more natural behaviors from him. He currently shares his yard with our young female Andean bear and is enjoying her company. He has shown her how to swim, and she has shown him how to climb. She's eating a wider variety of food, and we think it's because she's watched him eat. Look for Nikki in the back of the exhibit in a cave-like structure in the wall or asleep on the wall. In warmer weather, you may see him swimming.
Billie Jean is the newest addition to our group of Andean bears. She arrived last November and has been a wonderful addition. She displays many natural behaviors in her yard, which she has worked very hard to make her home. From the first day in the yard, she has been displaying the climbing skills of Andean bears. In addition to climbing, she has built herself a nest up in her favorite tree. This is common behavior in the wild but uncommon in a zoo setting. Be sure to see it when you visit.
She is very bright and active and keeps us constantly entertained with her antics. She energetically interacts with the boxes and toys we give to her as enrichment. She often throws things as well, particularly round objects such as coconuts and ice balls.
We have started a training program with her, and she is a quick study. She picks up new behaviors with ease. We observed breeding behavior with Nikki and Billie Jean this summer, so we have begun to train her to sit still and allow us to ultrasound her abdomen. Her training in this behavior is going quite well.
Stay tuned for more updates about Billie Jean, Nikki, and Bandit!