Andean Bear Cub Update: A Berry-Filled Afternoon

This Andean bear cub update was written by animal keeper Leigh Pitsko.
Andean bear cub Sean chews on a piece of cardboard.

Andean bear cub Sean chews on a piece of enrichment cardboard.

Two small black Andean bear cubs named Ian and Sean chew on different ends of a large strip of cardboard.

Andean bear cubs Ian and Sean use their teeth to tear apart cardboard.

A fuzzy black Andean bear cub climbs a tree with a piece of cardboard in his mouth.

Andean bear cub Sean climbs a tree with a piece of cardboard in his mouth.

For the last few months, Andean bear fans have been able to watch our 7-month-old cubs, Ian and Sean, as they frolic and explore their outdoor habitat at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. As soon as the cubs are let out each morning, they immediately run up to the trees and start climbing. They are practically tree-climbing masters now!

And the cubs recently reached a new milestone: they had their first time out in the big outdoor yard! This yard, which is usually inhabited by their father, Quito, is adjacent to the yard where the cubs and their mother Brienne have been spending most of their outdoor time. Right in the middle of the yard is a large mulberry tree that currently has tons of berries. The cubs and Brienne were very happy to have an afternoon of berry picking (and eating!)

Andean bear Brienne balances with four legs on top of a tall, narrow tree stump in the large outdoor yard.
Brienne balances on a tree stump as she tries to reach the berry tree.
Three Andean bears perch on a rocky outcrop under the shade of a mulberry tree.
Brienne and her two cubs relax under the shade of a mulberry tree.

Apart from climbing, we make sure the cubs can stay as busy and engaged as they want to be. One of the ways we accomplish this is by presenting them with toys and enrichment activities—this allows them to flex their problem-solving skills. The cubs love anything that is given to them, but right now, the “hot item” is a cardboard box!

As Ian and Sean get closer to their first birthday, they’re becoming a little more independent. Brienne has slowly changed from a “helicopter mom” to a mom that watches from afar. She is always keeping a close eye on the cubs, but now she will sit and rest in the top corner of the yard instead of following them around. The cubs are still nursing from her, but less so than before. They eat the same foods that Brienne is offered—fruits, root veggies, omnivore chow, nuts and some fish.

Both Ian (who has a triangle patch on his forehead) and Sean (who has a hook over his right eye) have similar personalities—they both love to climb, wrestle, eat fruit and play.  Both of them also interact with the animal keepers, although Sean tends to linger a bit longer with keeper interactions.

As part of their regular health monitoring, the Zoo’s animal care team weighs all our Andean bears weekly, including the cubs. But lately this has been difficult. Why? Because between Quito and Brienne, we are on our third scale replacement in the last few weeks!  The bears are very strong and will move anything that is not bolted down—including our very large, very heavy animal scales.  We are hoping to get our latest scale up and running—and securely fastened down—very soon!

You can come by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and see these adorable cubs in person! Plus, you can keep up with keeper updates on the cubs here

Here at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, we rely on generous donors to support our conservation efforts, including our work with Andean bears. Please consider becoming a champion for these bears and the other animals at the Zoo by making a contribution here.