Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Body length: 5.5 to 6.5 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters), with males up to 40 percent larger than females
Height at shoulder: 27 to 31 inches (70 to 80 centimeters)
Weight: males, 220 to 340 pounds (100 to 155 kilograms); females, 140 to 180 pounds (64 to 82 kilograms)
Life span: up to 38 years in zoos
Gestation: about 65 days true gestation, as female bear experiences delayed implantation
Number of young at birth: 1 to 3, usually 2, in zoos (unknown in wild)
Weight at birth: 10 to 18 ounces (284 to 510 grams)
Age of maturity: 4 years
Conservation status: Vulnerable
Andean bears are the
only bears found in South America. Since literature's "Paddington
Bear" came from "darkest Peru," he would have been
an Andean bear!
Andean bears are the only bears known to eat bromeliads.
The largest bear that ever lived was a relative of the Andean bear called a giant short-faced bear. Fossils of this bear have been found in California's La Brea Tar Pits.
Because of its warm native climate, the Andean bear does not hibernate and is active year-round.
Andean bear "cooing"
Mammals: Andean (Spectacled) Bear
Here's looking at you
The Andean or spectacled bear of South America gets one of its common names from the rings of white or light fur around its eyes, which look like eyeglasses (or spectacles) against the rest of the black or dark brown fur. These markings often extend down the chest, giving each bear a unique appearance (and helping researchers identify bears by their "mug shots!"). The markings also give the bear its scientific name: Tremarctos ornatus, or decorated bear. Among the smaller of the bear species, Andean bear males are 30 to 50 percent larger than the females.
Normally diurnal, very little is known about these bears in the wild. They are shy, tend to avoid humans, and typically live in forest habitats, making it hard for researchers to study them in the wild.
Andean bears are mostly solitary, but they may gather together to eat where food is plentiful, such as a cluster of trees bearing fruit or corn ripening in a farmer's field. A female gives birth in a protected, out-of-the-way den, but almost nothing is known about how she chooses her den site. The newborn cub's eyes don't open until it is about 42 days old. Cubs first leave the safety of the den when they are about three months old.
Mom can carry a cub by clutching it to her chest with one front paw as she runs on three legs or walks on her hind legs! Andean bears are thought to use vocal communication more than any other bear except the giant panda. Andean bears make unique vocalizations, which are quite "un-bear-like": a shrill screech and a soft, purring sound. Mother bears may use different vocalizations to communicate with their cubs. It is not known how long the youngsters stay with their mother in the wild, but it is believed that the cubs are at least eight months old when they venture out on their own.
I'll eat that!
Andean bears are true arboreal bears, using their long, sharp front claws to climb. They build leafy platforms in the trees, which they may use to feed and sleep. The bears are mainly plant eaters, dining on fruit, bromeliads, and palms. Bears living in scrubland habitat are even known to eat cacti! Farmers sometimes blame spectacled bears for killing livestock, but studies of the bears' droppings (scat) show that only around five percent of their diet is meat, usually rodents and insects. The bear is a good swimmer, although it doesn't usually dine on fish!
Eating so much fruit gives these bears an important role in rain forest ecology: the seeds that they eat are excreted in their droppings as they move around the forests, spreading the seeds over long distances. This produces the next generation of fruit trees and promotes diversity in the forest. At the San Diego Zoo, the Andean bears are fed omnivore biscuits, apples, carrots, grapes, yams, bananas, oranges, and lettuce. For treats they may be offered crickets and mealworms.
An uncertain future
The habitat of the Andean bear is being destroyed for mining operations, farming, and lumber. The construction of new roads fragments bear habitat as well. As their habitat shrinks, bears may stray onto farmland, feeding on the crops that replaced their natural diet. These bears have been hunted in the past for their meat, fat, and body parts, but they are now protected from international trade.
The Andean bear is one of the flagship species of national parks in the Andes. This means that the bear, an animal that people recognize easily, is used as the symbol of the parks. Local people in bear habitats are being educated about the benefits of preserving habitat for the bears for tourism, for the protection of water sources, and for the natural heritage of future generations.
A Species Survival Plan (SSP) is in place for this bear species, and San Diego Zoo Global is working with the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society. This nonprofit organization has been working in the dry forest of northwestern Peru since 2006, building strong relationships with the local communities and making incredible discoveries about bear biology