This month’s mammal is the only wild bear species in South America, and one of the most symbolic mammals of the tropical Andes. Join us in celebrating the elusive spectacled bear.
Spectacled bears – also known as Andean bears – make their home in the dense Andean jungles of South America. They are named for the rings that encircle their eyes, resembling large spectacles. These markings often extend down their chest, giving each bear a unique appearance.
Intensely shy bears, they prefer the lush, isolated cloud forests on the slopes of the Andes. They will descend to lower elevation forests to search for food, and have been seen in widely differing habitats such as rainforests, páramo grasslands and scrublands.
Spectacled bears are primarily vegetarian, consuming fruit, berries, cacti, bromeliads and honey. Agile climbers, they have been known to sit in a tree for days waiting for fruit to ripen. They have extremely strong jaws and wide, flat molars to chew tough vegetation such as tree bark and orchid bulbs. At times, spectacled bears will supplement their diet with meat, eating insects, rodents, birds and even small cows.
Solitary animals, adult spectacled bears are normally seen together only during mating season. Females usually give birth to one or two small cubs, which remain with the mother for up to one year, often hitching a ride on the mother’s back.
Cubs are black in color and already show the white or yellowish ‘spectacle’ markings
The spectacled bear inspired Michael Bond’s beloved Paddington book series. However, little is known about this rare, charismatic species. Lack of knowledge about spectacled bears considerably compromises conservation management for the species.
As with many species, loss of habitat is a major reason why the spectacled bear population is declining. They are also illegally hunted for their meat and body parts, and occasionally killed by farmers protecting their livestock and crops. These conservation threats have caused the spectacled bear’s IUCN status to reach ‘vulnerable’, meaning the species is at high risk of extinction in the wild.
Agile climbers, spectacled bears have been known to sit in trees for days while fruit ripen
With the support of our donors, Nature and Culture International is working to establish a vast corridor down the spine of the Andes, protecting highly diverse ecosystems that are home to the spectacled bear. Most recently, our donors protected nearly 1.1 million acres in the Andes of Ecuador!
We are also assisting researchers with implementation of early alert bear monitoring systems to reduce conflicts between bears and farmers, and are implementing a public outreach campaign on the importance of the bear’s role in maintaining forest ecosystems. Check out the spectacled bear below, captured on one of our research project’s camera traps.
Together we can protect South America’s only bear species. With your support, Nature and Culture continues to work in the Andes, establishing new protected areas, strengthening existing reserves and supporting sustainable management.