Welcome, Bjorn! Rosamond Gifford Zoo’s Andean Bear Exhibit is Home to a New Resident

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo just welcomed a new resident who is 4 years old, weighs 250 pounds and pushes 6 feet tall when he stands on hind legs.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon came to the zoo  last week to introduce Bjorn, an Andean bear who was born at the Queens Zoo in 2016 and has lived at Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the St. Louis Zoo.

“Having an internationally accredited zoo allows our community to encounter rare animals, like Bjorn, that they get attached to and care about protecting,” McMahon said. “We are so excited to have this rare and magnificent animal in the care of our world-class zoo.”

Zoo Director Ted Fox said the zoo is thrilled to welcome Bjorn to reside in its Andean Bear Exhibit, which has been unused since the second of its elderly Andean bear brothers passed away in July 2020.

“We lost Kahless and Morath in 2019 and 2020 at the ripe old ages of 25 and 26, and people have really missed seeing this amazing species exploring our complex bear exhibit,” Fox said. “We know our community will be so happy to have Bjorn here. He is a young, active bear who should be with us for quite some time.”

Andean bears are also known as Spectacled bears because they are black with tan markings around their eyes that can resemble eyeglasses. They are listed as “Vulnerable” in their native Andes Mountains due to habitat loss and poaching.

Credit: Bjorn’s past keeper Sara Colandrea at the National Zoo

Andean bears are the only species of bear native to South America, where they inhabit scrub, cloud and mountain forests in Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. They are the most arboreal (tree-dwelling) and best climbers of all bear species, which Bjorn demonstrated by climbing a tree in his new home to the awe of zoo visitors.

There are fewer than 18,000 Andean bears remaining in the wild and about 40 in the care of Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoos, which study and care for them under a Species Survival Plan (SSP).

Bjorn’s past caregivers describe him as an awesome ambassador for his species. He is playful, inquisitive and enjoys training with his keepers, standing on his hind legs and splashing in the pool. His keepers at the St. Louis Zoo say he loves eating watermelon and smashing coconuts.

Since arriving in Syracuse this week, he has impressed the Rosamond Gifford Zoo animal care team as extremely handsome, healthy and “a really good boy,” said Collection Manager Seth Groesbeck. The public can now see him daily in the exhibit on the zoo’s Wildlife Trail.

The Friends of the Zoo has started a donation page, Bjorn’s Housewarming Bonanza, to purchase enrichments for Bjorn. Visit https://p2p.onecause.com/bjornsbonanza to see their wish list.