NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Nashville Zoo works hard to save species that are endangered, but they also work to ensure animals that aren’t endangered, like the Andean bear, continue to thrive.
“Andean bears are under the Species Survival Plan or SSP, which is basically a combination of eHarmony and Ancestry.com,” said Sloan Campbell, Carnivore Keeper. “They look at genetics and pedigrees to match up the bears to have the most genetically healthy population.”
While Andean bears are not endangered, Campbell said they are on their way due to habitat loss and poaching. “Having a Species Survival Plan and healthy population in zoos across the world is important to keep them living and thriving to not go extinct.”
That’s one reason Nashville Zoo hopes to see offspring soon from their Andean bears, Luka and Muniri – also known as Moony.
Campbell said Andean bears in captivity start breeding around 8-years-old. The good news here, Luka, the female, is now eight!
“When they breed, they make a lot of vocalizations. You may not hear them as much here with the water fountains. Muniri does a trilling noise like Chewbacca. Luka will do the same thing back to him, and when she does, it means she’s ready and starting to cycle and be more receptive to him,” Campbell added, “He always loves her, so it’s really about when she’s ready to hang out with him.”
The keepers have been preparing Luka to be a mom for the last few years. “She’s been doing ultrasounds, so we can through a fence use a probe to check her.”
Another part of Campbell’s job includes providing new enrichments for the bears every day.
“Foraging is a type of enrichment and enrichment is activities that are natural behavior in the wild like hunting and looking for food.”
Campbell said keepers will disperse foods like berries throughout the exhibit, and also hide worms in hay piles.
Plus, there’s more than meets the eye at the Expedition Peru: Trek of the Andean Bear exhibit.
“The exhibit is built with holes to help with hiding,” said Campbell. “The exhibit is designed to encourage mimicking what they do in the wild.”
She added the keepers also like to mix up the daily training. It’s important to note, they always have a barrier between them and the bears.
“They are born and raised in zoos, but they have the same teeth and claws, and we don’t want them to hurt us or put anyone in a bad situation,” Campbell continued, “It may look like we are in the exhibit when we feed them, but there is always a door or wall there.”
Campbell also shared some insight on their behaviors, so the next time you visit the Association of Zoos and Aquariums award-winning exhibit, you can determine which bear is Luka and which one is Moony.
“Luka likes to see people and make a big show. She’ll get in the pool and splash around and get up in the tree and make a big nest. Moony is an absolute ham, and he naps on the logs. He likes to sleep a lot of the time,” she said.
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You can support the Andean bears in the wild with the zoo’s adopt an animal program. You will get a certificate and a chance to meet Luka and Moony up close.