The National Zoo will be expecting new arrivals soon - Billie Jean, a 6-year-old Andean bear, is pregnant with two cubs.
The Smithsonian National Zoo made the announcement on Friday, and they are hoping Billie Jean will reach full term successfully as she did in January 2012, when she gave birth to two other cubs—Bernardo and Chaska.
But what makes this story even sweeter is that Bille Jean mated naturally with Nikki, a male Andean bear that was humanely euthanized in August after he was diagnosed with skin cancer. So if the Billie Jean's cubs are born healthy, they'll be a legacy.
“It would not only be a heartwarming story if Nikki’s legacy were to continue,” said Craig Saffoe, curator of Great Cats and Bears. “It will also be a huge conservation success as his genes are extremely valuable to the North American Species Survival Plan for Andean bears. We learned so much about reproduction and cub development from her first litter, and we are eager to learn more and use that knowledge to benefit the species as a whole.”
The zookeepers and veterinarians remain "cautiously optimistic" because like many bear species, Billie Jean could resorb one or both fetuses at any stage of the pregnancy.
“Billie Jean’s behavior is similar to what we observed the last time she had a successful delivery,” said Karen Abbott, an animal keeper. “She’s been eating less of her regular diet, she’s nest-building and she is starting to choose to stay in her den even when offered outdoor access. All these signs tell us she’s gearing up to give birth soon.”