Exciting news for wildlife lovers: Two junior members of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Nature Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., are finally on view to the masses!
They are Andean bear cubs, known as Sean and Ian, who were born in November 2022 but seldom seen in the interim. That is until Monday, March 27, when they made their way into the great outdoors. Up until that point, they spent most of their time inside being monitored by animal care staff via a Cub Cam to allow their momma the opportunity to care for them free from the prying eyes of the public.
Beginning a few weeks ago, Sean and Ian were accompanied by their 4-year-old mother Brienne on some brief excursions to explore the yard in their exhibit. Now that they’ve got a little time under their belts, the intrepid explorers and their doting mom will be calling the outdoor space home, allowing visitors to the zoo to pop over and see them in action as they continue to grow.
Sean and Ian, whose father is 9-year-old Quito, are the fourth litter of Andean cubs born at the National Zoo since 2010. It’s a pretty big deal for a species listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Today it’s estimated that less than 20,000 Andean bears are left in the wild.
Known as the only bear species to call South America home, the National Zoo works with other zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to coordinate breeding programs “that ensures genetic diversity for the long-term survival of the species.”
Once they reach adulthood, Sean and Ian could possibly be selected for one of those breeding programs, allowing them to add to the genetic diversity of the Andean Bear population currently in captivity while acting as ambassadors for their species in future conservation efforts.
“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.”
While the cubs were initially described as “active and vocal” shortly after their birth in November, they are now being touted as “cute” and “playful” as they start to explore the outside world with their insatiable curiosity. Check out the video below for lots of adorable ooohs and aaaahs moments.