Nashville Zoo’s first Andean bear, Luka, celebrated her 4th birthday on January 3 with a Frozen themed birthday party. This is Luka’s second birthday at Nashville Zoo since arriving in June 2015 from Phoenix Zoo.
The birthday party included Luka’s favorite enrichment items - large tubs, cardboard castles covered in different herbs and spices, a snow machine (using Dawn dish soap), bubbles and a birthday "cake" made of specialty bear biscuits soaked in diluted cran-apple juice topped with a Honey drizzle, wax worms and a hardboiled egg.
Luka catches snow on her tongue at her birthday party.
Luka and Holt
It didn't take long for Luka to knock down her cardboard castle.
Birthday party guests included Zoo staff members, a cardboard Olaf and two other special guests – Andean bear brothers Holt and Muniri, who arrived in Nashville last May from The National Zoo. All three Andean bears live in a temporary home on the back of the Zoo’s property as they await the completion of their new exhibit - Expedition Peru – Trek of the Andean Bear.
While Luka is visibly smaller than the brothers, guests will be able to identify her by her prominent tan speckled markings on her face. Muniri can be distinguished by a long, single tan stripe that runs between his eyes. The most curious and mischievous of the group, Holt, has a black face with small tan markings on his muzzle.
Keepers have been working with all three bears on target training, which enables keepers and vet staff to easily conduct routine health exams, ultrasounds, blood draws as well as daily claw and paw exams. Because Andean bears are naturally inquisitive and curious, they get excited to learn and try new things, especially when their favorite foods (corn-on-the-cob and fruit) are part of the training.
The Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is South America’s only bear species. Often referred to as the spectacled bear, this omnivorous species is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to habitat destruction and poaching. There are only 38 Andean bears in the AZA collection across the United States, three of which are here in Nashville.
Luka and Holt wrestle in their off-exhibit yard.
Holt enjoys a hard-boiled egg.
Luka examines a bag covered in new scents (a mix of herbs and spices) as part of her enrichment.
Holt enjoyed the snow and bubbles!
Training our Andean bears
Target training is a foundation behavior and is vital in the beginning stages of animal training. The purpose of the behavior is to direct body movement, and allows keepers to get an up-close visual of the animal in a non-invasive, stress-free manner.
The zookeeper places a target stick up to the mesh and says the command ("Luka, target"). When the bear touches her nose to the target stick, the keeper blows a whistle (which serves as a signal to let the bear know she has done the correct behavior), then rewards the bear with a preferred food item.
Target training, combined with other basic behaviors, will help keepers train the bear for ultrasounds, blood draws, claw and paw care, dental care, and crate training.
Training, in general, builds the keeper-animal relationship, enables better animal care, reduces the stress of veterinary procedures, and provides mental stimulation for the animal.