The spectacled bear is South America's only bear species. It faces an uncertain future due to loss of habitat.
Andean bear, spectacled bear
Spectacled bears are robust, with a short and muscular neck, short but strong legs. As with all bears, spectacled bears walk on the soles of their feet and have longer front than rear legs, making them excellent climbers.
Fur is usually black, although it can have dark red-brown tones on the upper-parts. Spectacled bears sometimes have white to pale yellow markings around the muzzle, on the neck and the chest. These markings may also be present around the eyes, which is the reason for its common name.
Males are up to 50% larger than females.
Spectacled bears are generally diurnal, shy, peaceful and elusive, avoiding contact with humans. They are usually solitary, but may occasionally be found in relatively high concentrations, when favourite food items are abundant.
Cubs are born with their eyes shut and weigh about 300g. Eyes are opened after the first month. Cubs are black in colour and already show the white or yellowish 'spectacle' markings. The young grow fairly quickly and at 180 days they already weigh 10kg. Cubs remain with the mother for at least one year after birth. Spectacled bears are estimated to live for just over 20 years.
Pairs are formed only for reproduction between March and October, indicating an ability to reproduce at different times of the year. Bears breed for the first time when they are between 4 and 7 years old. The gestation period oscillates between 160 and 255 days, and a litter contains between one and three cubs. Bears generally give birth from September to February.
Spectacled bears have an omnivorous diet, although they are fairly specialized in fruit and different parts of several plants. They feed high up in trees as well as on plants growing on the ground. When ripe fruit is not available, bears live off fibrous parts of plants such as bromeliad hearts, soft parts of palms, orchid bulbs and even tree bark. In addition, they eat insects, small rodents and birds.
Current Population and Distribution
The spectacled bear is found from Venezuela to Northern Argentina, including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. According to some researchers, the greatest number of bears is to be found on the borders between Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Recent estimated population sizes for most areas are small, with a total estimate for the Northern Andes (excluding most of Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina) comprised anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 individuals.
This profile has been reviewed by Luis German Naránjo and Olga Lucía Hernández, Northern Andes Ecoregion Program, WWF-Colombia Programme office.
Major habitat type
Cloud forests (also known as Andean forest) and high Andean moorland (páramo').
Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia
South America - Andes
Eastern Range montane forest, Venezuelan Andes montane forest, Northwestern Andes montane forest, Cauca Valley montane forest, Magdalena Valley montane forest, Eastern Cordillera Real montane forest, Venezuelan Andes páramo, Northern Andes páramo, Central Range páramo, Peruvian Yungas, Ucayali moist forest, Central Andean puna, Bolivia Yunga, Southwestern Amazonial moist forest, Bolivan montane dry forest, Central Andean wet puna, Southern Andean yungas.
Loss and fragmentation of the species habitat is due to the construction of roads, the destruction of forests for illicit crops such as coca and opium poppy, and the use of grazing areas for cattle farming. Protected areas conserving bear habitats and some of their populations are not large enough for the species' survival throughout its range.
Current land use patterns include the felling of trees, land clearing, and extraction of timber and firewood for farms in the higher mountainous areas. Along with infrastructure development (highways and roads, oil pipelines, gas pipelines, dams, and high tension lines), the advances in mining, petroleum exploitation and other industries, and the expansion of illegal crops have fragmented the original habitat of the spectacled bear into at least 113 patches of wilderness in the mountainous region between Venezuela and northern Peru.
Hunting is one of the major causes of population reduction of this species. Local inhabitants kill bears for diverse reasons, including subsistence hunting, protection against attacks to livestock and crops (especially maize), fear of the animal due to cultural reasons, It is calculated that around 200 bears are hunted down each year in the region.
Spectacled bears are also hunted for parts used in wildlife trade. The gall bladders are valued in traditional oriental medicine and can fetch a high price on the international market; recent estimates put the price at US$150 for one, which is 5 times the average monthly wage in Ecuador. There is a large market for bear paws, with one paw bringing in between US$10 and US$20 .
Many of these threats can be largely attributed to the inequity in land tenure. In the most productive areas of the Northern Andes, property is concentrated in the hands of a few, which means that the poorest inhabitants are forced to occupy the limited land available on the fragile hillsides of mountains inhabited by the spectacled bear.
The conditions of rural poverty and the worsening of social conflicts in these countries have intensified this process, which, in the case of Colombia, has been undoubtedly associated with armed conflict and illegal crops.
What is WWF doing?
- WWF led the participatory development of an ecoregional conservation strategy for the species in the Northern Andes, with the support of other international organizations and local NGOs from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The strategy is being adopted by an increasing number of partners in these four countries and is helping to develop action plans at the local level.
- WWF-Colombia is currently working with governmental and non-governmental partners to implement priority actions, including finding solutions to conflicts between wild bears and farmers, developing a communication campaign and identifying priority sites for bear conservation in Colombia.
- In Venezuela, WWF's associate organization FUDENA is leading the development of a national action plan based on the ecoregional conservation strategy.
- WWF also works to address the problem of wildlife trade through its partnership TRAFFIC.
- Adopt a spectacled bear! Help protect vital habitat for the spectacled bear through WWF US.
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Did you know?
- Protecting the habitat of the forest's largest animal automatically benefits other forest dwellers, bringing advantages to the whole ecosystem. For this reason, the spectacled bear is considered a flagship or umbrella species.
- The fictional children's character Paddington Bear is a spectacled bear, having come all the way from "darkest Peru".
- The spectacled bear is thought to be the best climber of all the bear species.