Andean Bear Cubs Make Debut at the National Zoo in Time for Mother's Day

The Andean Bear exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Zoo will be double the fun when twin cubs make their debut Saturday, May 11. The male and female cubs, named Curt and Nicole, were born at the Zoo Dec. 14, 2012, and are significant births for the population of Andean bears in human care. They are the second litter of cubs born at the Zoo since 2010, and one of only three litters born in North American zoos in the past six years.

Only two zoos in the United States have Andean bear cubs right now, and we are very lucky to be one of them, said Craig Saffoe, curator of Andean bears. It's a rare and special treat for our visitors to be able to see a mother with two cubs.

In preparation for the cubs' debut, animal keepers “baby-proofed” their exhibit. Keepers spread hay bedding around the yard to keep the cubs safe while they explore and play. Andean bears are very adept climbers, and the exhibit is now ready for the cubs to test out their skills. Visitors can see Curt, Nicole and their mother, Billie Jean, on exhibit daily beginning Saturday, weather permitting. The cubs will remain with Billie Jean for approximately one year.

The cubs were sired by the Zoo's male Andean bear, Nikki, who was euthanized last August after a yearlong battle with squamous cell carcinoma. He and Billie Jean bred in April 2012 before his death. The cubs were named April 25, and Nicole was named in memory of Nikki. Curt was named in honor of the late Zoo Advisory Board member Curt Winsor. The Zoo will continue to share the latest updates and photos of the cubs on Facebook and Twitter.

Andean bears, the only species of bear native to South America, are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. It is estimated only 2,000 remain in their natural habitat in the Andes mountain range.

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