Spectacled Bear, Tremarctos ornatus

The spectacled bear or the Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is native to South America. This bear is locally known as jukumari, ukuko, or ucumari and is the only remaining species of short-faced bear existing today, making it the sole member of the sub-family Tremarctinae. The range of the spectacled bear includes western Venezuela, eastern Panama, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, northwestern Argentina, and western Bolivia. It is only found in the Andes Mountains, but it is thought to be an adaptable species because it is found in so many different habitats. These include cloud forests, scrub desert, high grasslands, and arid forests. It can be found at altitudes between 820 and 6,200 feet, although the latter is the typical lowest point for this species. In can sometimes be found above the snow line at 16,000 feet. The spectacled bear was named for the light fur that occurs on the chest, neck, and face, which resembles a pair of spectacles. Its other common name, the Andean bear, is derived from its location.

The spectacled bear can vary in size depending upon the sex, with males growing large than females. The average body length of both males and females can range between 47 and 79 inches, with males weighing up to 440 pounds and females weighing between 77 and 181 pounds. Its fur is usually black in color over most of its body, but may hold a brown or reddish tint. Although this species is named for the pale fur located on its face, chest, and neck, not all bears have the light fur, and the pattern can vary between individuals. The short face of this species is thought to be an adaptation to a carnivorous diet, although it does not consume large amounts of meat.

The spectacled bear is solitary in nature, although it is not territorial. Males hold a territory of 8.9 square miles during the rainy season, but during the dry season, this number increases to 10 square miles. Female’s home ranges are much smaller, reaching only 3.9 square miles in the rainy season and 2.7 square miles in the dry season.  It will avoid contact with humans and other bears as much as possible, often withdrawing into trees. It will build a platform in the treetops, using it for a resting spot and for protection. The breeding season of the spectacled bear occurs year-round, but peaks in the rainy season during the months of April to June.

During this time, mating pairs will breed for one to two weeks. After a pregnancy period of up to eight months, a litter of one to three cubs is born between the months of December to February. This species does not give birth while hibernating, like other species, but it does give birth in dens and the mother waits until her cubs can see and walk before emerging with them. Cubs will typically remain with their mother for one year before leaving to find a home range of their own.

The diet of the spectacled bear consists of more plant materials than the diet of other bears, with five to seven percent of its food consisting of meat. It consumes plant material like palm nuts, cacti, orchid bulbs, fallen leaves, unopened palm leaves, and bamboo hearts. This species is known to peel back the first layer of bark on trees to get to the second layer, which is highly nutritious. Most of its food is difficult to digest, so most other creatures in its range do not consume the same materials. Other food it consumes includes cultivated honey, sugarcane, corn, and berries. When hunting animals, it chooses small prey like rodents, rabbits, birds, and carrion. Some ranchers believe that the spectacled bear feeds on live cattle, but it does not typically hunt large prey.

The spectacled bear is threatened by hunting, because many locals believe that the bear hunts livestock and is a pest to crop producers. The gall bladders of this species are used in traditional Chinese medicine practices. The major threat to this bear, however, is habitat loss. Because it is dependent upon trees for its habitat and food, deforestation is causing a decline in the bear’s population numbers. They are forced to eat crops, which causes them to be hunted, further decreasing their numbers. There are laws protecting the species from being hunted or killed, but they are not well enforced. The spectacled bear has appeared in media in the past. In Paddington Bear: The Early Years, a documentary film, Stephen Fry encounters a spectacled bear named Yogi. This bear was kept in a small cage, but was rescued by Fry and placed in a Macho Picchu enclosure.  This caused a second documentary, called Stephen Fry and the Spectacled Bears, and written account known as  Rescuing the Spectacled Bear: A Peruvian Diary. A  BBC documentary called “Spectacled Bears: Shadows of the Forest” was also produced, highlighting some of the research being done to save the species in Peru and Ecuador. The spectacled bear appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Vulnerable.”

Image Caption: Tremarctos ornatus Spectacled Bear at the en:Houston Zoo. Credit: en:User:Cburnett/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)