Andean Bear Cub Update: The Beary First Look

This update was written by animal keeper Sara Colandrea.

Brienne’s cubs are one month old on Thursday, Dec. 15. Since their birth, we have primarily watched mom and cubs from the Andean Bear Cub Cam to give them a chance to bond without disturbance. However, last week, Brienne gave us a chance to go into her stall for a few minutes. There was a good 21 days worth of cleaning to do and our team worked quickly. As expected, Brienne was not pleased to be locked away from her cubs and pawed at the gate. But she did not get overly stressed, which is a good sign of her trust toward us.

While part of the team cleaned, I had a chance to see the cubs up close and take a couple photos!

Two 3 week old Andean bear cubs sleep on some hay. One cub "spoons" its sibling.

The cubs are roughly 7 inches long, or slightly longer than my cell phone. Their eyes and ears are still closed. When they opened their mouths, I did not see teeth yet. Despite being blind and deaf, the cubs did respond to my presence! When I was near them, they wiggled around and called for mom, which are all great signs. I did not touch or handle the cubs during this time, so I was not able to determine their sexes.

Andean bears have unique facial markings, just like our fingerprints. They can be very minimal to a bold cream color that encircles their eyes and continues down their chest. These bears are born with their markings and I was excited to finally see the cubs’ markings up-close. One cub has a large triangle on its forehead and the other has a long thin hook over its right eye.

Two 3-week-old Andean bear cubs lay in some hay. One appears to be looking towards the camera, but its eyes are still closed.
Andean bears are born with their unique facial markings. As you can see in this photo, one of the cbs has a large triangle on its forehead.

Brienne appeared calm upon regaining access to the den area and brought some fresh hay with her. It was good for her to see nothing bad happened while we were in with her cubs.

While this was our first trip into the space since they were born, it was not Brienne’s first time away. When the cubs were around 8 days old, Brienne began leaving the nest to get food. Some Andean bears start eating four or five days after giving birth. Others won’t come out of the nest for food for up to a month.

We provided Brienne her pellet diet, which includes a special omnivore pellet, in a brown paper bag. She takes the bag from us and carries it back into the den to eat with her cubs nearby. Last week, we also began offering her an apple, which she normally eats before heading back into the nest.

A 3-week-old Andean bear cub lays partially on it's side, appearing to look toward the camera with it's still closed eyes. It has one paw raised above it's face. Next to it, its sibling appears to be sleeping on its side with its face buried in the hay.
When Sara was near the cubs, they responded to her presence despite being deaf and blind. They wriggled around and called for mom.

For anyone who has tuned in to the Andean Bear Cub Cam, you may have noticed how loud the cubs can get. I’d love to say it’s only the mic — which is very sensitive — but the squeals can be heard throughout the entire Andean bear building. Our other bears can definitely hear the cubs, but do not seem to be bothered by them.

Quito, our 9-year-old male and the cub’s father, is particularly unphased. Male Andean bears do not take any part in rearing cubs. So, while he is aware of the cubs’ presence, he likely does not know they are his.

Something a little quieter (or at least muffled) we are listening for is the cubs nursing. They make a muffled trilling or “digga-digga-digga” sound while they nurse. The cubs have no concept of time right now, so when they nurse or are active is still completely random. We also watch to ensure Brienne is caring for the cubs when they call. She’s been very attentive and an excellent mom.

Tune in to the Andean Bear Cub Cam to hear and catch quick glimpses of the cubs. Stay tuned for more of our favorite cam moments and look for another keeper update in 2023!