Two of the youngest members of the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Nature Conservation Biology Institute are now on view to the public -- and they're almost unBEARably cute.
The two Andean bear cubs, Sean and Ian, were born on Nov. 15, 2022. Until Monday, they'd spent most of their days inside at the zoo, being monitored by animal care staff via a live Andean Bear Cub Cam so the cubs' mom could care for them without interference.
But in mid-March, Sean, Ian and 4-year-old mom Brienne started to explore the yard in their exhibit near the the lower entrance to American Trail exhibit, the National Zoo said in a release about the cubs.
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As of Monday, March 27, the two cubs will call that yard home along with mom Brienne, and visitors can stop by to see them explore and grow up in-person, when weather permits.
Sean and Ian, born to Brienne and 9-year-old father Quito, are the fourth litter of cubs born at the National Zoo since 2010.
That's a big deal for a species that is listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. It's estimated that fewer than 20,000 Andean bears remain in the wild, and they are the only bear species known to call South America home.
The National Zoo works with other zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to coordinate breeding programs "that ensures genetic diversity for the long-term survival of the species."
Once they grow up, if Sean and Ian are selected for those breeding programs, they would add to the genetic diversity of the captive Andean Bear population and act as ambassadors for their species in conservation efforts.
Like most Andean bears, Sean and Ian each have unique face markings that zookeepers and visitors can use to distinguish them from each other.
"Ian has a triangle patch on his forehead similar to his great grandmother Billie Jean’s, while Sean has a hook over his right eye like Quito," the release said.
The two cubs were described as "active and vocal" just after their birthday in November, and "cute" and "playful" as they started to explore the yard.
You can reserve free passes to the National Zoo to see the Andean bear cubs by clicking here. The National Zoo is open every day except Dec. 25, with hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer. Final admittance is 5 p.m.