June 21, 2013
It was a big day Thursday for the National Zoo’s six-month-old sloth bear cub born last December–what with the climbing and exploring and posing and all. It was the debut public appearance for the Zoo’s first sloth cub born in seven years, named Hank after a vote from fans on Facebook. And he’s a bit of a rarity nationally with only 18 zoos exhibiting the species. Taking to the terrain quite nicely, he’ll now be a regular at his Asia Trail home every morning from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. In case you missed his eventful first day, here are some photos from the Zoo.
May 7, 2013
Andean bear cubs, Curt and Nicole, played in the rain for the first time in their new outdoor home. Before making their public debut Saturday May 11, the cubs got to know their space on a rainy Tuesday morning. Under the watchful eye of mother Billie Jean, the two cubs, born last December, took to the rocky walls and steep climbs. Staffer Craig Saffoe says this species has a particular fancy for heights and a flair for daring acrobatics that can sometimes leave visitors breathless.
“But I’ve never seen them fall,” says Saffoe. Curt and Nicole both took a few small tumbles as they tried out their mountaineering skills, but they seemed to be in good spirits bounding about the grass, tackling each other. Billie Jean was a bit less enthusiastic but still attentive.
The cubs were a big victory for the Zoo. Since 2005, only three litters of Andean bear cubs have survived longer than a week, two born to Billie Jean, and the mortality rate of Andean bear cubs in their first year is around 40 percent, according to the Zoo.
Saffoe says the cubs will likely come out around 10 each morning to play, but, just like kids at a park, he says, when the cubs start to crash, they’ll head back inside. The cubs first explored the enclosure in March after Billie Jean finally allowed them to leave the den. The Zoo staff then began baby-proofing the yard with extra hay bedding.
The cubs will make their debut just in time for Mother’s Day.
February 21, 2013
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 [Nikki] 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.”
February 13, 2013
This Valentine’s Day, take a cue from our furry friends and bond with the best of them. The National Zoo is spreading the love this year with their very own “Critter Cupids,” custom cards whose proceeds go to the wonderful animals that inspired them.
We got the inside scoop from caretakers and Zoo officials about all the many ways animals say, Happy Valentine’s Day.
Sea lions, Rebecca Miller: “Our sea lions often greet each other by touching noses or blowing on each other. They greet us this way too sometimes when we go out to feed or train.”
“They are also very playful with each other and will play tag or tug of war with objects that we give them. They have no real concept of personal space, often piling on top of each other when they sleep and using each other’s bodies as pillows.”
“Our two older unrelated females, Summer and Calli, were rescued as pups within a few days of each other and were raised together. They used to suck on each other’s ear flaps when they were younger–not so much anymore.”
“And they always prefer to be together. They’ll get antsy and easily stressed if separated from each other for long amounts of time.”
Giant pandas, Juan Rodriguez: “That shot of Tian Tian and Mei Xiang is the initial stages of the mating season. It usually ends with them rolling around and then their uncoordinated mating attempt (LOL).”
Great cats, Craig Saffoe: “Big cats (and small ones too) will head-rub with each other. To us it looks like “awwww, they’re in love,” in reality it is likely a way to express hormones as they have scent glands above their eyes. Looks cute though.”
Otters, Devin Murphy, Zoo communications team: “Our otters are very playful and they do everything together. When they run around their habitat it looks like one giant moving ball of fur. You can also hear them vocalize if you listen closely.”
Red pandas, Stacey Tabellario: “Red panda breeding season in the northern hemisphere is right around Valentine’s day. In fact, in 2011 we saw breeding ON Valentine’s day that produced two female cubs who are now grown and living at other zoos.”
“During breeding season, we see an increase in play and hear a vocalization called twittering. These red panda wrestling matches and soft high pitched sounds are how the red pandas find each other and pair up for breeding.”
October 26, 2012
Two-weeks old and already strutting her stuff, the newest dama gazelle went on display for the first time Wednesday at the National Zoo. Born to mother Zafirah, the baby joins another youngin born September 4 to mother Fahima. The two were seen sprinting around the yard together in a playful frolic. In case you aren’t sure how adorable it is when baby gazelles run, we provided some priceless footage (above) of the older male baby bounding about in September.