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Posted at 12:55 PM ET, 03/ 1/2010

Twin bear cubs born at the National Zoo

By Washington Post editors

It's a . . . well, we don't know whether they're boys or girls yet, but the National Zoo is announcing the birth of twin Andean bear cubs to first time mother Billie Jean. Officials believe the cubs were born back in January, but it took a bit of time to confirm the happy news, since the cubs could only be monitored via closed-circuit infrared camera and sound monitors and will not be examined for several more weeks.

“From the den camera, we can observe a very attentive mother bear and two small cubs that are moving, wiggling and thriving,” said curator Craig Saffoe. “Vocalizations that we hear are loud and strong, which is another indicator that the cubs are healthy. So far, things are shaping up as we had hoped: mom is doing everything extremely well on her own to rear these cubs, and there is no need for human interference at this point.”

cub
(Smithsonian National Zoo)

Billie Jean and her yet-to-be-named cubs are not expected to make their public debut until the spring, but a special bear-cam has been set up. The pair are the first Andean cubs born at the National Zoo in more than two decades. Coincidentally, the last surviving Andean bear cub born in North America before this was their mother.

Billie Jean, 4, had several ultrasounds in December that showed two growing fetuses. But like their cousin, the giant panda, Andean bears can resorb one or both of the fetuses, resulting in only one or no cubs. Animal keepers closely listened to the sound monitor for in the days immediately after the birth to confirm that there were two cubs.

Newborn cubs weigh 10 to 18 ounces at birth, and they are practically bald, toothless and blind. Their eyes generally open at 4-6 weeks of age, and they take their first steps soon after. Generally, they do not leave the den until they are about 3 months old.

The cubs' father is Nikki, the Zoo's male Andean bear. Nikki, 18, came to the Zoo three years ago with a severe weight problem. Zoo nutritionists put him on a weight-loss plan and he was able to shed almost 200 pounds in a year. The weight loss boosted his fitness and his ability to be considered for breeding.

Andean bears live in the Andes mountain range and outlying mountain ranges, from western Venezuela south to Bolivia. Some have even been sighted in eastern Panama and the extreme northern part of Argentina. The Andean bear is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened animals.

By Washington Post editors  | March 1, 2010; 12:55 PM ET
 
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