Known as: Spectacled Bear, Andean bear
Estimated numbers in wild: Less than 3,000
The spectacled bear is the only bear species living in South America, and could probably be described as a medium-sized bear. A spectacled bear boar can weigh up to 200 kilograms, while a large female might weigh only about 85 kilograms. Spectacled bears can be from 120 centimetres to 200 centimetres in length. The coat of a spectacled bear is usually black, but colour variations can include brown or rust. The bear is named for the white or pale yellow markings on the face, which encircle the eyes on some of the bears, giving the impression that they are wearing eyeglasses. The spectacled bear has a short snout in comparison with other bear species, and a much rounder face.
Diet: Like most bears, spectacled bears will eat almost anything, although their diet is heavily weighted towards vegetative matter – only about 5% of their food is actually meat. Spectacled bears appear to favour bromeliad fruits in particular, although they also eat cacti, palm nuts, and carrion. These bears remove the outer bark from trees to feast on the cambium layer beneath. The strong jaws and teeth, and highly developed gastrointestinal system of the spectacled bear allow it to access many food sources that would be indigestible to other animals.
Habitat: As with Asian bear species, spectacled bears are comfortable climbing trees, and also build platforms in them. Spectacled bears prefer living in the cloud forests of the Andean region. They will climb trees to avoid humans. Mother bears defending cubs have attacked humans, but no human deaths have been laid at the spectacled bear’s door.
While spectacled bears are mostly solitary, they do sometime form small groups when foraging. The bears will form pairs during the spring and the young are born in the Southern Hemisphere summer of November through February. The cubs are naked, blind, and helpless when born and are dependent upon the sow for up to 8 months afterwards. The number of cubs born (1 to 3) is linked directly to the size and health of the sow.
Location: Spectacled bears are found in the rainforests of the Andes Mountains in western South America. They can be found from Venezuela, Columbia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, to Argentina.
Threats: As with many species of animals, habitat destruction is contributing to loss of spectacled bears. The encroachment of agriculture, logging, and mining not only destroy forestland, but also fragment the bears’ range, making inbreeding more likely. Farmers often shoot the bears thinking that they will attack domestic animals, and spectacled bears are also poached for their gall bladders, used in Oriental ‘medicines’.
Conservation efforts: Although the spectacled bear is nominally protected throughout most of its range, lack of personnel in parks and reserves mean that the bear is generally left without any meaningful protection. NGOs have been important in working with South American governments to help provide a meaningful way to protect the bears while still supporting local human populations. Captive breeding programs are also in place to help assure that this species survives.
Bear Trust International
Bear Trust International is an American organisation which works to protect different bear species around the world and their habitats through education, research, management and habitat conservation.
Hauser Bears is a UK based charity with a mission to change peoples attitudes towards bears. Their main work revolves around research and education to ensure a future for all bear species.