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Queens zookeeper bones up on the bear essentials

A Bayside man traveled to South America last fall to ensure that two of his borough friends would have the bear necessities.

David Morales, a zookeeper at the Queens Zoo, took part in a symposium on the Andean bear in Peru in November. The Bayside resident has worked at the Flushing zoo for 14 years, during which time he has trained and cared for its two Andean bears — Cisco and Spangles — and its big cats, including cougars and lynx.

Morales said he took part in the symposium to discuss the physical and psychological needs of the bears with other zookeepers and animal experts from around the world as well as to conduct a bear keeper training program at Lima’s Huachita Zoo.

“We want to keep them active in captivity,” he said of male bear Cisco, 16, and female bear Spangles, 17. “They are very shy animals and will avoid humans in the wild. We want them to exhibit behaviors in captivity that they would exhibit in the wild.”

Andean bears are Latin America’s only bear species, Morales said. They can be found in a number of nations, including Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.

Morales said the Queens Zoo attempts to recreate the bear’s natural habitat.

“Andean bears build tree nests so, in captivity, we built nesting sites in their exhibit,” he said. “There are also a lot of scents they come across in the wild that stimulate them, so we try to include herbs and spices. It builds a good relationship and bond between animal and keeper.”

Morales said he spoke on the panel during the Peruvian conference, which ran Nov. 10−17, about a variety of issues, including healthcare for the bears, as well as their physical and psychological needs and exhibit design.

He said the male bears can stand up to 6 feet tall and weigh up to 400 pounds, while the females often stand up to 5 feet tall and weigh between 125 and 200 pounds. The bears can live as long as 30 years, he said.

Morales studied anthropology at Manhattan’s Hunter College, but he said he learned more through field experiments.

“A lot of what I learned, you can’t really learn in a college because it’s hands−on,” he said. “I’ve gone to Latin America to study the bears in the wild. The objectives of those projects were to look at the animal’s natural habitat and bring back ideas for the zoo.”

The Queens Zoo is located at 53−51 111th St. in Flushing.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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