The Cubs’ Arrival is Significant for Conservation of Their Species 

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance in San Diego, Calif., continues to celebrate the arrival of twin Andean bear cubs—now three months old and venturing out of their private den into the guest-facing habitat. The cubs were born in December 2022 to second-time mother Alba and sire Turbo. 

Since the twins’ birth, wildlife care specialists have been closely observing the bears via a closed-circuit video camera and an audio “baby monitor,” allowing Alba to care for her youngsters without interruption until they were ready to leave the den. The arrival of Alba’s cubs marked the first time that twin Andean bear cubs have been born at San Diego Zoo since 1993 when Alba’s grandmother, Houdini, gave birth to twins Sombra and Quixote. 

“We couldn’t be more thrilled about the birth of Alba’s twin cubs,” said Tammy Batson, lead wildlife care specialist at the San Diego Zoo. “We witnessed Alba transition beautifully into motherhood with her first cub a couple of years ago, and now as a second-time mother with twins, she continues to impress us with her attentiveness. She’s a proven mom who now has both hands full.”

Like other newborn bears, Andean bear cubs are helpless and entirely dependent on their mothers. Alba cared for and bonded with her cubs in their den for the first few months. In their native South American forests, Andean bear cubs typically leave their dens at around three months of age and are believed to remain close to their mothers for at least the first year. Wildlife care specialists continue to monitor Alba and her cubs, who have access to both their den and outdoor habitat.

Andean bear cubs walking

Andean bears were first cared for at the San Diego Zoo in 1938; since then, 11 cubs have been born. The birth of these two cubs is significant for conservation research. The Andean bear, native to dense and rugged forests, grasslands, and scrublands in Andes mountain countries from Venezuela to Bolivia, is listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Their major threats include habitat loss and fragmentation, challenges to human-wildlife coexistence, and poaching. 

Approximately two-four percent of Andean bear habitat is lost per year due to climate change, mining and lumber operations, and farming. International trade laws protect the bears, but they are still illegally hunted for their meat, fat, and body parts. It is unclear how many bears remain in their native habitat, with estimates ranging from 2,500 to 10,000 adults. 

Scientists know very little about the species in their native habitat due to their shy nature and tendency to avoid people. However, Andean bears in human care serve as a safety net for dwindling populations in native habitats and give biologists a chance to answer a myriad of biological questions about the species, develop noninvasive methods for use in field conservation work, and better understand Andean bear physiology and behavior, to support the population.

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has been studying Andean bears for more than 14 years and, since 2008, has worked with various partners to research and conserve bears in Peru. Collaborative work is underway on the Manu landscape of southeast Peru to document Andean bear presence and characterize critical aspects of bear ecology and behavior—such as foraging behavior, trail use, and marking behavior—to determine where these bears live, and how they interact with their environment and plants in their varied habitats. Additional work focuses on genetic diversity across Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru—a large portion of the species’ range. To enhance future conservation research and planning, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance also provides opportunities, mentorship, and ecological training for technicians and students in and around Peru.

Photos Credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

Edited by Sarah Gilsoul, a writer and communications program assistant at AZA.


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