WASHINGTON -- Feeling a little down from the dreary weather? This'll cheer you up -- the National Zoo has released an impossibly heart-warming photo of a mother bear and her baby.
It shows Billie Jean, the 6-year-old Andean bear who gave birth to two cubs in December, carrying one of the cubs out of their den.
The ice might be sticking around for the rest of the day, but tell us your heart isn't already melting!
According to the zoo's Facebook post, put up on Sunday, Billie Jean was on an ultimately unsuccessful mission to collect fresh hay when the photo was taken:
While we don’t usually know why she leaves the den, or why she brings the cubs with her, this time it was clear to the keepers that she was on a mission to acquire fresh hay, which she uses for bedding. She picked up on cub, carried it out of the nest, through one enclosure to another, put her paws up on a bench and tried to grab some hay one-pawed. That's when the other cub, back in the nest, started hollering. She immediately returned to the nest—without the hay.
On Jan. 22, the zoo released a photo of and some information about Billie Jean tending to her other cub:
The keepers got their first good look at one of Billie Jean’s cubs! She brought the cub out into the main den. It’s natural for her to carry the cubs this way; it’s no different from a cat carrying her kittens by the scruff of the neck. We don’t know why she brings the cubs out every now and then, but this is the first time she’s brought one out while a keeper was there.
With only about 2,000 remaining in the wild, Andean bears -- which are small, shy and largely vegetarian -- are designated as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. They generally live between 20 and 25 years in captivity, according to the National Zoo.
These cubs are the only surviving Andean cubs in a North American zoo since Billie Jean's first cubs, Bernardo and Chaska, were born in 2010.