This is the only bear species found in South America and its population is declining at an alarming rate.
Words: Galo Bermeo / Photo: Osoandino / Map: Jairo Cabrera
The Spectacled bear of South America is descended from ancestors which entered the continent from North America some 2 million years ago. The markings around each eye vary considerably between individuals. The thick coat is otherwise of uniform color.
The Spectacled bear lives in a variety of habitats and altitudes The spectacled bear lives in a variety of habitats and altitudinal ranges from: 200 m a.s.l. to 4,750 m a.s.l. with an area of occupancy covering approximately 260,000 km² throughout the Andes, from Venezuela to Bolivia. Although it prefers humid forests, it uses grasslands above 3,200 m a.s.l. and lower scrub deserts. In Ecuador it inhabits the eastern and western slopes of the Andes.
Based on expert knowledge, data extrapolation, genetic analysis, tag-recapture, radio-tracking and signal studies, as well as ecological modelling to estimate Andean bear population size and density, this species is listed as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List, due to the declining numbers of this mammal species in South America. Wild populations are believed to be in decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation and illegal killing.
Spectacled bear distribution map.
The Andean bear is listed as Endangered (EN), according to Ecuador’s Red List, due to the fragmentation and loss of natural habitats in the Andean region, caused by productive activities (livestock and agriculture) and the extraction of natural resources.
The spectacled bear is large and stocky-bodied, males are between 1.8 – 2.0 metres tall, weighing up to 175 kg, females are somewhat smaller. The markings around each eye vary considerably between individuals. Otherwise, the thick coat is uniform in colour. Andean bears are omnivorous and have a set of physical adaptations for this lifestyle.
Bromeliad hearts and palm leaf petioles are the most common foods in the daily diet of Andean bears in most of their territory. Fruits (figs, cacti) are a key food source for the species as they provide the carbohydrates, proteins and fats needed to balance its diet. Although primarily herbivorous, the spectacled bear also feeds on insects, carrion, occasionally domestic animals such as cattle, young deer, guanacos, vicuñas, rabbits and mountain tapirs.
Activity patterns are primarily diurnal, but vary seasonally and amongst geographic areas. Because food is available year-round throughout most of their range, Andean bears do not hibernate.