Andean Bear Cubs Gear Up for Public Debut; Public Can Weigh in on Naming the New Bears

The two Andean bear cubs, Tremarctos ornatus (also known as the spectacled bear), that were born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in mid-January are getting ready for two big events: receiving their names May 19 and making their public debut May 22.

After months of seclusion in their indoor den with mother Billie Jean, the two curious cubs have slowly ventured farther into their indoor enclosure, graduated to a few trips outdoors to explore their yards and are gearing up to make their public debut. However, they are in need of fitting names, and the Zoo is asking the public to weigh in on the selection. Though both cubs are similar in size and coloring, their facial markings are quite distinct, so they can be easily distinguished. The male has much more pronounced “eyebrows” or spectacles—he has a lot more light-colored hair in the area around his eyes than does his sister.

“The cubs are extremely playful and not at all shy,” said acting Andean bear curator Craig Saffoe. “They seem to like showing off for the keepers. They like to wrestle with each other, or their mother—but they never win that match. They are incredibly endearing to watch; I think visitors will be captivated with them.”

Starting today, the public can vote online for one of four names (each) that the Andean bear keepers, volunteers and the embassies of Peru and Venezuela (countries in which Andean bears are found) have provided for these cubs. Polls will remain open until noon Monday, May 17. The winning names will be announced via a special media event May 19 at the Andean Bear exhibit with Dennis Kelly, the National Zoo’s director, and representatives of the embassies of Peru and Venezuela. In addition, the names will be announced via Facebook and Twitter.
Name choices:


  • Bernardo: This is a Spanish name that means “brave like a bear” or “strong, brave bear.” Since these bears are found in South America, where the primary language is Spanish, this robust Spanish name is fitting of the Zoo’s muscular, tough male cub.
  • Juco: This name originates from the Quechua language, native of the Andean mountains. Andean bears are indigenous to the Andean mountains, hence their name, and choosing from this language would be a tribute to the people of that region.
  • Churun: This is a popular male name in Venezuela and is also the name of a river that runs through the country. The river feeds into Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world (3,212 feet). The river and falls’ beauty and strength reflect the Andean bear—strong and beautiful.
  • Atiq: This is a Quechua word that means “winner” or “the one who achieves.” The belief is that the birth and survival of these growing, thriving cubs is a real “win” and great achievement for the vulnerable species.


  • Caridad: This Spanish name means “charity” and “kindness” and would be fitting of a beautiful female Andean bear cub.
  • Paqarina: This name is from the Quechua language and it means “dawn, daybreak, the beginning of a new day or rebirth—a new opportunity to live.” It is a “new day” for this species to prosper. Choosing a name from the Quechua language pays homage to the area in which these bears originate.
  • Chaska: This is also a Quechua word and it originates in Peru. It is the name of the dawn star and many Andean women in Peru are named Chaska.
  • Roraima: This is a popular female name in Venezuela in honor of the beautiful Mount Roraima in the Amazon region. The mountain includes the triple border point of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana.

Individuals who retweet the Zoo’s call for votes on Twitter will be entered in a drawing for a tour of the Zoo’s Andean Bear exhibit and a chance to meet their keepers.