Seeing Double: Andean Bear Cubs Born at the National Zoo

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Just a week after learning about the adorable leopard cubs born at the zoo, we've just found out about another new arrival (or should we say two new arrivals).

The Zoo's female Andean bear, named Billie Jean, gave birth to two cubs on January 14, about 24 hours apart. The cubs are the first Andean Bears to be born at the Zoo in 22 years. Andean bears are the only bears native to South America, living in the Andes Mountain range mostly between Venezuela and Bolivia. Ironically, the last Andean bear cub to survive in North American captivity was Billie Jean, in 2005.

The pair were the first cubs for Billie Jean and her mate, 18-year-old Nikki. The birth was a particularly positive milestone for the cubs' father: Nikki was extremely overweight when he came to the zoo three years ago, but trainers helped him drop about 200 pounds in the past year, which has improved his physical health and, accordingly, made him a better candidate for breeding.

Andean cubs tend to stay with their mother in the den for about three months, which means scientists at the zoo have yet to learn the cubs gender, or see them physically at all, said Karin Korpowski-Gallo, a spokeswoman for the zoo. Korpowski-Gallo said the Zoo has been monitoring the cubs through video and sound monitors, and that Billie Jean hasn't needed any parenting help so far. When cubs do leave the den, likely sometime in April or May,  doctors will be able to determine their gender. Until then, scientists have been monitoring their progress and tracking their vocalizations, while exposing them to different elements to prepare them for leaving the den.

Though visitors won't get to see the cubs in person for a few months, try to catch a glimpse of them with Billie Jean on the Zoo's webcam.

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