One week and nearly 5,000 votes after the Smithsonian’s National Zoo opened the online polls to the public to name its male and female Andean bear cubs the Zoo has its winners: Chaska, pronounced Chas’-kuh, for the female and Bernardo for the male!
Animal keepers and the embassies of Peru and Venezuela submitted names for the online poll that are of Andean or South American derivation. Each name held significant meaning special to the bears or the region in which they are found. National Zoo director Dennis Kelly, along with Deputy Chief of Mission from the Embassy of Peru, Mr. Fernando Quiros, and the Charge D’Affairs from the Embassy of Venezuela, Dr. Angelo Rivero–Santos, announced the names today in a special naming ceremony.
When the polls closed on Monday, Chaska edged out Paqarina by merely 72 votes (1,799 or 37% of the total votes). Chaska, meaning the “dawn star,” was submitted by the Embassy of Peru. Bernardo, Spanish for “brave like a bear,” won by a much larger margin claiming 42% or 2,064 votes. Bernardo was submitted by the Andean bear keepers for the poll but coincidentally is also the name of the Ambassador of Venezuela, Bernardo Alvarez.
The two Andean bear cubs (also known as the spectacled bear), were born at the National Zoo to four year-old Billie Jean on Jan. 14 and 15. They are the first Andean cubs born at the National Zoo in 22 years and the only surviving Andean cubs in any North American zoo since 2005. The last surviving Andean bear cub born in North America before these two was their mother, Billie Jean.
The cubs, their mother and father, Nikki, and another older female, Bandit, live at the National Zoo’s Andean bear exhibit in the Beaver Valley section of the Zoo. Due to construction on the Zoo’s seal and sea lion exhibit, Beaver Valley is closed to the public during the week but the Andean bear exhibit will be open to the public on weekends beginning May 22 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
The Andean bear is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species.