By Gina Martinez
Queens Zoo has a new kid on the block.
The first Andean bear ever born in New York City, a black-and-white cub, made his debut last week in the zoo’s bear habitat with his mom. And he is already drawing excited crowds.
The cub was born in November to a 4-year-old mother, Nicole, and 6-year-old father, Bouba, who came to Queens Zoo as part of the Species Survival Plan.
The zoo in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is helping to breed Andean bears — South America’s only native bear — under the cooperative program designed to increase threatened species’ population in zoos and aquariums around the world.
According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, there are only 42 Andean bears in AZA zoos and only six potentially viable breeding pairs in the survival plan population, making this cub’s birth special. With fewer than 18,000 Andean bears in the wild, the Queens Zoo and Wildlife Conservation Society have been working to study and conserve the bears in South America since 1977.
The bear still does not have a name. Officials say they are still trying to come up with a plan for naming him. Suggestions include a vote of the children who visit the zoo or perhaps giving naming rights to a big donor willing to support the breeding program.
In his first few days on public view, the cub has taken a liking to a jungle gym-type tree arrangement in the center of his enclosure. His mother is never far away and usually gathers him up in the afternoon to nap with her in a nearby rock recess.
The cub weighs about 25 pounds now and is still a bit unsteady on his feet. Climbing is his thing.
Queens Zoo Director and Animal Curator Scott Silver leads the national breeding program as the Species Survival Plan coordinator.
“This is a significant birth for the Queens Zoo and the Andean bear SSP breeding program,” Silver said. “This little guy may be adorable, but more importantly, he reminds us of what we stand to lose when a species is in danger of extinction. We are excited to introduce the cub to New York and to share the work WCS and our partners are doing to save Andean bears and many other species in the wild.”
Andean bears are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
In 2010, the Wildlife Conservation Society and partners formed the Andean Bear Conservation Alliance, which funds conservation efforts and supports knowledge-sharing to improve monitoring techniques in the field, Queens Zoo said.
The zoo said exhibit times will vary until the cub becomes fully acclimated to its outdoor exhibit.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart