Baby bear’s birth is celebrated at Salisbury Zoo

Gritto, the new baby bear's father, has been at the Salisbury Zoo for about three years.

Gritto, the new baby bear’s father, has been at the Salisbury Zoo for about three years.

Something in the spectacled bear’s habitat was different around Jan. 23.

Five-year-old Chaska, who’s lived at the zoo two years, was secluding herself and making high-pitched sounds, signs she was about to become a mother. And indeed she did, to the delight of caretakers who had been hoping she’d mate with the older bear, Gritto, and add a cub to the population.

The birth, sure to excite visitors to the 60-year-old park, was not announced by city officials, who waited to be sure the cub would survive, according to Chris Demone, who handles public relations for the mayor’s office.

The public can’t see the cub yet, said Ralph Piland, zoo director, and won’t until it’s about 3 months old. That’s when mother bears usually allow their young to explore.

It’s too soon to know if the cub is female or male. Caretakers haven’t gotten overly close, since bears can become aggressive if they fear their newborns are in danger. They have been known to kill them if that fear escalates, Demone said, adding the birth was a surprise, since an earlier ultrasound indicated the female was not expecting.

The cub is one of only three born in North America this year, said Piland, who saw it for the first time about a week ago. At birth, they weigh less than 1 pound and it takes a few weeks for their eyes to open, he said.

“Chaska is being a great mother, particularly since it’s her first offspring. Often with mammals the first one is a learning curve, but she’s doing great. We don’t observe her that closely, but she’s nursing it and holding it. She kept it warm during some of these cold periods we’ve had,” Piland said.

The cub is trying to stand, and should be walking by 8 weeks old, he said.

Eventually, the cub could be sent to another zoo, depending on its gender and needs of other facilities, but it won’t go right away, Piland said. It could be used to breed, since Andean bears are rare.

Chaska, who came from the National Zoo, is an Andean bear. She arrived at the zoo in the spring of 2013, and soon had the attention of Gritto, who was about 20 at the time, and considerably larger.

Chaska replaced well-known and much-loved Poopsie, another spectacled bear who lived comfortably at the zoo and was the oldest in captivity.  She died about four years ago.

Referred to as spectacled bears because light-colored rings around their eyes resemble spectacles, or eyeglasses, the bears are in a species that’s considered threatened.

There has been discussion about a citywide contest to name the little one, but Demone said it isn’t yet certain. Piland said nobody at the zoo has a nickname for the cub yet.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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