Spectacled bears are the only species of bears found in the continent of South America, and they are the last of the short-faced bear family. Here is some useful information you need to know about this wonderful mammal.
Did You Know?
A typical spectacled bear usually resides in forests that are 6,000 m to 8,000 m above sea level, but since it is so adaptable, you also find them in areas of low altitude, like the grassland forests in Panama.
The spectacled bear is also called the Andean bear, and has names, like ukuko, jukumari, or ucumari. Its scientific name is Tremarctos ornatus, and it is the closest relative to the Tremarctos floridanus (Florida spectacled bear), which is extinct.
The sad part about this bear species is that it is the only surviving member of the subfamily Tremarctinae, and it is endemic to the continent of South America. This AnimalSake write-up provides interesting facts about the spectacled bear, like its appearance, habitat, behavior, diet, reproduction, and conservation.
The spectacled bear is named so because of the distinct markings around its eyes. These markings are like a fingerprint; hence, they are unique. Each bear has a different pattern and color, and some do not have it at all.
The markings range from a light tan to complete white color, and they extend till the neck. The Andean bear has a rounded head with a short snout. Its fur is thick and dense, which is usually dark brown, or black in color with a reddish sheen to it.
Male weight: 100 - 175 kg Female weight: 60 - 80 kg Head-body length: 120 - 200 cm Shoulder height: 70 - 90 cm Tail length: ca. 7 cm
The spectacled bear is found in the northern and western part of South America.
Even though these bears are distributed in regions, like the western part of Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, northwest Argentina, and almost the entire Andes mountain range, there are a few sleuths of bears found in Panama.
Andean bears are known for their adaptability to different geographic terrains; therefore, they are seen in different habitats and altitudes, like high-altitude grasslands, scrub deserts, dry forests, and cloud forests.
The spectacled bear prefers forests that have a high humidity level as they have varied food species. These bears survive well in high-altitude levels that range from 250 to about 4,750 m.
Behavior, Diet, and Breeding
Andean bears are very shy, peaceful, and elusive. They climb trees, where they make platform-like structures on treetops as their resting areas.
Spectacled bears are usually solitary in nature, but occasionally in areas where food is abundant, you will find a large bear population.
Even though these bears are termed as carnivores, their main diet consists of ripened fruits, tree barks, orchid bulbs, cultivated crops, like corn and sugarcane, berries, etc.
They also eat insects, rodents, and small birds. Even though they are not your typical meat-eating bears, some fully-grown adults hunt horses, cattle, deer, etc., on rare occasions.
Bears reach maturity between the ages of 4 to 7 years, and although they can reproduce at any time of the year, their breeding season is usually from April to June.
Their gestation period is about 5.5 to 8.5 months, and they give birth to about 3 cubs in one pregnancy. Usually, cubs are birthed during the dry months between December to February. The cubs are born with their eyes closed, and they usually open them after a month or so.
Their weight, when they are born, ranges from 300 - 330 g, and they stay with their mother for about a year after they are born.
Threats and Conservation
Humans are the biggest threat to this species of short-faced bears. They are hunted by farmers as these bears feed on crops and occasionally hunt their livestock. Poachers hunt them for their gallbladders, as this organ has a very high price in international markets, for its use in traditional Chinese medicine.
Apart from hunting, humans also destroy their habitat, by ruining forests for timber, increasing farmland, and leaving hundreds of spectacled bears without a home and feeding opportunities. The IUCN has tagged this species as Vulnerable on its red list due to its declining population.
Measures are being taken to increase the population of these bears in the wild as well as in captivity. There are various NGOs working towards making people aware of the spectacled bears' diminishing population, and steps are being taken to preserve their natural habitat.
Even though the local farmers consider these bears as pests, they are important. They are the second-largest land mammals found in South America; therefore, great care and measures should be taken to preserve this amazingly rare and truly unique bear species.