During your next visit to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, look up—there may be a bear in the treetops! Beorn, a 1-year-old Andean bear, joined our Zoo family this summer and has been busily exploring his exhibit. Get to know Beorn in this Q&A with animal keeper Sara Colandrea.
Why did Beorn come to the Zoo?
Beorn came to Washington, D.C. from the Queens Zoo in New York. He is living at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo on a temporary basis while the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan searches for a permanent home.
We are fortunate to have a facility that is large enough to house multiple bears. Beorn lives alongside our adult Andean bears—12-year-old female Billie Jean and 4-year-old male Quito. We have two outdoor yards at the Andean bear exhibit and alternate giving Beorn and Quito access to one of the yards while Billie Jean occupies the other. Beorn cleared a routine period in quarantine just over two weeks ago and has been very busy exploring his new home.
A fun fact about Beorn is that he is Billie Jean’s grandson! His mother, Nicole, was born here in December 2012 to Billie Jean and Nikki.
What is Beorn’s personality like?
He is a typical young male bear—very inquisitive and tough on his enrichment toys, but otherwise good-tempered and seems to enjoy attention from his keepers. It is a fun challenge thinking of creative ways to keep him entertained with enrichment; he likes to investigate and get into everything.
Beorn loves to climb, more so than Billie Jean or Quito. He will ascend to the very top of the trees, then nibble the branches around him. He will sit in such a way that he is cradled in the branches; often, he wedges his 165-pound frame in so well that it takes a minute to get his bottom unstuck when he is ready to come down! In addition to climbing trees, he seems to enjoy playing and splashing around in his pool.
How has Beorn reacted to Billie Jean and Quito?
When Beorn and Billie Jean are both outside in their respective yards, he takes an interest in what she is doing but does not appear to be overly concerned with her. The same goes for Quito when he is in the neighboring yard.
Inside, the bears are in closer proximity to one another. Quito will go all around the neighboring stall marking his territory by rubbing up against everything. Beorn is just starting to work up the courage to come close to the mesh door to see Quito. We manage the bears so that these encounters are short and as stress-free as possible.
Does he have any favorite foods?Yes! When we were driving from Queens Zoo to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, the keepers gave me a bag of watermelon to feed him and keep him calm during transport. Beorn took the watermelon from me readily. Our Department of Nutrition Sciences provides coconuts to our bears as special treats, and he has a blast smashing them.
When is the best time to see Andean bears?
We host two keeper chats every day at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., where we introduce visitors to our bears and share some of our favorite facts about them. I hope to see you there!
This story appears in the September 2018 issue of National Zoo News. Stop by the Andean bear exhibit—adjacent to Amazonia and American Trail—to see Beorn, Quito and Billie Jean explore their habitats!