The National Zoo‘s pair of eight-week-old Andean bear cubs received a clean bill of health yesterday, February 20, after a thorough physical exam. The cubs had already marked a significant milestone for the species when they made it to seven days–something only one other captive litter in the country had achieved since 2005 and that was the National Zoo’s own 2010 litter, Chaska and Bernardo.
Weighing in at 10.1 and 9.2 pounds, the two cubs will stay with their mother Billie Jean until their public debut later this spring, likely in early May. In the meantime, they got a full examination as well as some routine vaccinations. Though it’s still difficult to ascertain the sex of each at this point, caretakers think it’s a brother and sister duo.
Great cats and bear keeper Craig Saffoe was part of the 14-person team that helped with the checkup. Even though the cubs are small, he says, they can still be a handful, squirming and sqwuaking. “It was insanely loud in there,” says Saffoe, “one of our vets was wearing earplugs.”
“They’ve seen their mother and each other and that’s it, so it kind of reminds me of what it must be like for people who say that they’ve been abducted by aliens,” says Saffoe. Nonetheless, the checkup went smoothly.
Staff (and the world) will continue to watch the cubs interact with their mother via the Cub Cam, gathering useful breeding information for other facilities hoping to replicate the Zoo’s success.
Though the two cubs have yet to be named (a process that falls to the Zoo’s director to oversee), Saffoe says he’s taken to referring to them as “broken mask” and “full mask” for their distinct facial markings. “Their father was, of course, euthanized last year due to cancer so there’s a bit of a hope we’ll be able to commemorate him,” he adds.
As for the cub cuteness competition pitting pandas against Andean cubs, Saffoe says it isn’t even close. “I’m biased, man. I think there is no bear on the planet cuter than an Andean bear, especially when you get to see them face to face.” He says, “they’ve got the perfect little face, they’ve got these neat little markings.” But Saffoe concedes the point that, “there aren’t too many cubs that aren’t cute.”