The spectacled bear is a medium-sized, nocturnal bear living in South America. These animals live in the dense forests near the western coast of South America. They have the distinction of being the only bears to live on this continent in the wild. Spectacled bears are sometimes also called Andean bears, because they live in the Andean jungle. Some people mistakenly call these bears “speckled bears,” probably from mis-hearing their actual name. They get their real name from the yellow/gold patch of fur that surrounds their eyes, resembling large eyeglasses. Some individuals do not have this patch completely surround their eyes, however. Some individuals do not even have these markings at all! The markings these bears have on their chest, face, and neck are like human fingerprints. Each individual has different markings. The rest of their body is covered in brown or black hair that sometimes has a reddish tint to it. Compared to most other bear species, spectacled bears have relatively short snouts. The popular children’s book character “Paddington bear” is a spectacled bear as is indicated by his coming from Peru. Spectacled bears are the only bears living in Peru.
These bears are extremely shy, and therefore prefer isolated and dense forests to live in so they don’t have to deal with as much human activity. Because they live on the Andes mountains, they can live in high elevations and will sometimes climb as high as 14,000 feet (4,300 m) above sea level. Although they generally prefer forests, spectacled bears have also been seen in grasslands or even deserts.
Males are significantly larger than females and can grow up to six feet (1.8 m) in length. They can also weigh up to 385 pounds (175 kg). Females only weigh up to 176 pounds (85 lbs). At their shoulders, males can stand up to three feet (90 cm) tall. These bears have small tails that are only three inches (7 cm) long. Spectacled bears are one of the smallest bears in the world, but despite this, they are the largest land mammals in South America (remember these bears are the only bears in South America).
Like some other bears, the spectacled bear is an omnivore, meaning it eats both animals and plants. Plants tend to make up the majority of this animal’s diet, and only about seven percent is made up of animals. One of their favorite foods is plants from the bromeliad family. This family contains plants with thick leaves and short stems. Other plants eaten include cacti, bamboo, palm, and corn. Animal food eaten includes rodents, birds, insects, carrion, and sometimes even livestock. Despite being so large, these bears often climb trees in order to get the food they want. Click here to see a video of spectacled bears eating one of their favorite plants: puyas.
Status and threats
The IUCN classifies the spectacled bear as “Vulnerable” on its Red List. Although population data is incomplete, it is estimated that there are less than 3,000 of these bears left in the wild. Humans often kill spectacled bears for at least two reasons. First of all, because spectacled bears often eat livestock and corn crops, farmers sometimes kill these bears in order to protect their property. Secondly, spectacled bear gall bladders are of high value in oriental traditional medicine. Recent estimates say the these organs can be worth up to 150 U.S. dollars on the international market. This is about five times the average monthly wage in Ecuador, so you can see why people might hunt these animals. Habitat destruction is caused by mining, road construction, and hunting for oil. This habitat destruction makes spectacled bears have to live closer to humans, making them prone to feed on farmers’ products and be easier targets for hunting.
Although this bear is legally protected, enforcement of this protection is rare. There are many national parks that contain these animals, but often their large expanses are too understaffed for effective conservation. Venezuela has a captive breeding program it is in charge of to help put the spectacled bear’s wild population back on track.
Mating and young
Spectacled bears are usually solitary, and one of the few times they are seen together is when it is time to mate. These bears mate throughout the year, but typically give birth between December and February after a gestation period of 5.5 to 8.5 months. Each female gives birth to between one and three cubs. After one month, the young’s eyes open for the first time. They stay with their mother for up to two years at which time males seeking to mat with their mother will chase them off. Sometimes they will hitch a ride on their mother’s back. Extra predators for the young include pumas, jaguars, and even adult male spectacled bears. In captivity, these animals can live up to 39 years, while they can live up to 25 years in the wild.
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- Animals of the world. Tom Jackson, ISBN: 978-1780191089
- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
- Spectacled bear – Cburnett
- Spectacled bear range map – Shadowfox
- Mystery animal – David De Hetre