The spectacled bear is the only species of bear in South America and one of the most emblematic mammals of the tropical Andes.
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.