Just in time for spring break, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI) has introduced two male Andean bear cubs named Sean and Ian to the public. The cubs were born on November 15, 2022, to their 4-year-old mother Brienne and 9-year-old father Quito, and are the first cubs born to the pair.
Over the past few weeks, the animal care team has worked with the brothers to prepare them for their public debut. They began exploring the yard alongside their mother in mid-March and have been observed by members of the public via a live Andean Bear Cub Cam and online “cubdates” for the past four months.
Andean bears are South America’s only bear species and are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Due to wildlife trafficking and habitat destruction, it is estimated that fewer than 20,000 Andean bears remain in the wild.
The births of Ian and Sean were significant for the population of Andean bears in human care, as they are the fourth litter of cubs born at NZCBI since 2010. An Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) is a critical program for vulnerable animals like Andean bears, ensuring genetic diversity for the long-term survival of the species.
“We work with other AZA-accredited zoos across the world to coordinate breeding that ensures genetic diversity for the long-term survival of the species. Once grown, if Ian and Sean are selected as studs, they provide more genetic diversity within the U.S. population,” said Sara Colandrea, NZCBI animal keeper and North American Andean bear studbook keeper and SSP coordinator.
Visitors can see the cubs, as well as Quito, on exhibit near the lower entrance to the American Trail exhibit, weather permitting. Andean bears have unique facial markings that visitors can use to differentiate the bears. Ian has a triangle patch on his forehead similar to his great grandmother Billie Jean’s, while Sean has a hook over his right eye like Quito.
The NZCBI animal care experts and scientists have partnered with Peruvian colleagues from the Inkaterra Association and the Peruvian government to learn about their Andean bear program and develop a strategy to enhance conservation, education, and management of the captive and wild populations of Andean bears in the Machu Picchu Sanctuary.
“International collaborations are essential to protect the future of Andean bears,” said Craig Saffoe, the curator of Great Cats, Andean bears and Kids’ Farm. “When we work together with our colleagues in South America, we not only help to protect existing wild populations but build a brighter future for both the bears and the humans who live alongside them.”
Bears in human care at zoos act as ambassadors for conservation and help educate the public about their wild counterparts. Sean and Ian will spend the next year with Brienne as they continue to grow, providing visitors the opportunity to observe and learn about these unique and important animals.
The public can visit Sean, Ian, and Brienne at the NZCBI during spring break and beyond, as the zoo continues to work towards the conservation of the Andean bear population.