Oldest Andean Bear Living in North America Celebrates 35th Birthday at the Buffalo Zoo

Zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) are dedicated to providing exceptional care to animals throughout the duration of their lives. With advances in veterinary medicine, nutrition, and husbandry techniques to address unique needs, many animals are living longer in zoos and aquariums around the nation than ever before.

As keepers provide care to these animals, the bond between them often becomes quite strong. Diana, an Andean bear at the Buffalo Zoo, is especially loved by her keepers.

The only bear species native to South America, Andean bears are listed as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Species.  Andean bears are cooperatively managed through AZA’s Andean Bear Species Survival Plan® (SSP) program, which is designed to help ensure a healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically stable population.

Currently, there are 58 Andean bears living at 28 AZA-accredited facilities in North America—and Diana is the oldest. In honor of Diana’s upcoming birthday, Buffalo Zoo keeper, Cheryl Chintella, has written a guest blog about her.

Diana, an Andean bear who will celebrate her 35th birthday at the Buffalo Zoo on Jan. 20, 2014, is the oldest Andean bear living in North America. (Photo by Melissa King, Buffalo Zoo.)

Diana, an Andean bear who will celebrate her 35th birthday at the Buffalo Zoo on Jan. 20, 2014, is the oldest Andean bear living in North America. (Photo by Melissa King, Buffalo Zoo.)

 Happy Birthday, Diana!

Monday, January 20, 2014 is a special day of celebration at the Buffalo Zoo. Diana, the zoo’s Andean bear, will ring in her 35th birthday with a day full of festivities planned by her keepers.

Known for her nest building skills and her busybody curiosity, Diana is one of the most popular animals among zoo staff. Visitors often mistake her for a baby due to her small stature, but what many don’t know is that Diana is the oldest Andean bear in North America and one of the oldest in the world. At age 35, she has already exceeded the median life expectancy for Andean bears, which is approximately 26 years.

Diana was born at the Lincoln Park Zoo on January 20, 1979. She arrived at her long-time home at the Buffalo Zoo on May 7, 1980. Many visitors who came to the zoo as children and are still living in the Buffalo area have, in a sense, grown up with her.

Diana with her cubs, Bronson, Bernard, and Bernadette. (Photo by Denise Lanz, Buffalo Zoo.)

Diana with her cubs, Bronson, Bernard, and Bernadette. (Photo by Denise Lanz, Buffalo Zoo.)

On January 23, 1991, only days after her own birthday, she gave birth to a trio of cubs named Bronson, Bernard, and Bernadette. Though Bronson and Bernard have never reproduced, Bernadette later became a mother to a single cub named Billie Jean. Now residing at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, Billie Jean has since made Diana a great-grandmother four times over with the birth of two litters of cubs.

Known for keeping her caregivers on their toes due to her exceptional climbing abilities and desire to explore, it is her day-to-day behavior and personality that truly make her a favorite at the Buffalo Zoo. She completely embodies the stereotype of the “nosy old lady.” Whenever one of her keepers is near, Diana moves throughout her off-exhibit area until she finds the one spot that affords her the best view of whatever her keeper is doing. She will turn her head to the side and practically pops her eyes out of her head while she keeps watch over a person on the other side of the room. This is especially true if it is time for her to eat or if she notices someone opening up the cupboard where she knows her favorite treats—cereal, animal crackers, raisins, and peanut butter—are stored.

Diana in one of her nests. (Photo by Caitlyn Bruce, Buffalo Zoo.)

Diana enjoying one of her nests. (Photo by Caitlyn Bruce, Buffalo Zoo.)

Whenever she isn’t being a busybody, Diana occupies her time by making larger-than-life nests that make her off-exhibit area look as though a tornado has just come through it. Though she is particularly fond of using hay and blankets to build her nests, she will use just about anything her keepers give her to make a comfortable resting spot. She has a patented technique for making any pile of bedding into a suitable nest for herself. Her preferred method usually involves sitting in the middle of the pile, flinging the nesting material forward with her front paws, then backward behind her, and then forward once again. Diana repeats the process over and over again until the nest is deemed suitable, though keepers often think it looks the same as it did when she started!

While we realize that the majority of you reading this post have not had the privilege of getting to meet Diana personally, we hope that it has given you the opportunity to feel like you have gotten to know this very special bear. Please join the Buffalo Zoo in wishing Diana a very happy 35th birthday!

Cheryl Chintella, Animal Keeper, Buffalo Zoo

This entry was posted in Andean Bear, Buffalo Zoo, Conservation, Lincoln Park Zoo, Smithsonian National Zoo, Species Survival Plan, Zoo. Bookmark the permalink.

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