The Spectacled Bear

Spectacled bears, also known as Andean bears are a fascinating species native to South America. They are considered a vulnerable population and according to the IUCN Red List there are less than 10,000 currently in existence. Some scientists believe their numbers are closer to 2,500. The spectacled bear is the only living bear belonging to the subfamily Tremarctinae (short-faced bear) as all other short-faced bears are now extinct.

Spectacled bear
Image of a spectacled bear sitting near some water and rocks. Image provided by Greg Hume, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Spectacled bear habitat

Spectacled bears are found in parts of Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. They are easily adaptable and inhabit multiple biomes in the region. They have a wide altitude range but usually do not venture beneath the foothills of the Andes (6,000 feet). They have been spotted near snow capped mountains at elevations of over 16,000 feet and close to sea level but sightings like these are extremely rare. Typically, they live at an altitude of six to nine thousand feet in wet humid conditions. The ideal habitat for a spectacled bear is a cloud covered forest because it’s humid and there’s a wide variety of food available. They also inhabit other environments including shrublands, high-altitude grasslands and dry forests but their numbers are not as significant in these regions.

What do they eat?

Spectacled bears are omnivores but they rarely eat other animals. 95% of their diet consists of fruits and berries. They have also been observed eating cactus, orchid bulbs, honey and bamboo hearts. Palm nuts and bromeliads are also a common staple in their diet. They enjoy corn too which gets them in trouble because farmers will shoot them to protect their crops. The bears have also been observed feeding on the carcasses of dead livestock which causes additional aggression from local farmers. However, most of the time they are herbivores feasting on fruits and plant but they will eat rodents, birds and insects if they’re hungry.

Another unique feeding habit spectacled bears possess is the use of “food platforms”. They will build platforms with branches and sticks which makes it easier for the bear to access food high in the canopy.

spectacled bear side-view
Side-view of a spectacled bear standing on a rock in front of a grassy green backdrop. Image courtesy of Silvio Tanaka, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

How long do they live?

It is estimated that spectacled bears live to approximately 20 years of age in the wild but there is not enough data to make a definitive conclusion at this time. In captivity, the average lifespan of a spectacled bear is 25 years. The longest recorded lifespan of a spectacled bear was a female who lived to the ripe age of 36 years and 8 months (Smithosonian National Zoological Park, Washington D.C).

What physical traits do they have?

Spectacled bears have thick uniformly colored fur coats varying from black to brown with the exception of the area around the eyes. Around the eyes they have tan-white markings that eerily resemble a pair of glasses, hence the name spectacled bear. On Average, males are 30 percent larger than females and can weigh in excess of 350 pounds. They are excellent climbers and often scale giant trees from the forest floor to the roof of the canopy above. They have a stocky build, short nose and small tail. They can swim and sometimes there head is abnormally large when compared to their body.

A spectacled bear at the Chaparri Reserve in Chiclayo Peru
A spectacled bear at the Chaparri Reserve in Chiclayo, Peru. Image provided by BluesyPete, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

What behaviors do they demonstrate?

Spectacled bears are reclusive and live a solitary life. They don’t live in groups and they don’t congregate unless it’s mating season. A mother will stay with her cubs until they can fend for themselves. There have been reports of bears gathering where food is plentiful like corn fields but they are shy and keep to themselves. That is the extent of their social interaction. They do not hibernate and they are quiet creatures. Not much is known about their behavior in the wild as they tend to avoid humans whenever possible.

Can I see spectacled bears in Colombia?

Yes, it is possible to see spectacled bears in Colombia but sightings are rare because they tend to avoid humans.  However, one of the best places to spot a spectacled bear is Chingaza National Park which is just a couple hours from Bogota. Chingaza National Park has one of the densest populations of spectacled bear in Colombia so you  might get lucky and see one (but it could take a few days). Access to the park is controlled and you have to file a entrance request 15 days before your planned visit. There are tourist companies in the area that offer single and multi-day packages. If you want to see a spectacled bear I would recommend hiring a local agency like Andes Ecotours.

We hope you enjoyed this article and learned something about the spectacled bear. Feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts, questions and/or suggestions. We would love to hear from you!

Tags: AnimalsColombiaNature

Erik Magnus

About the Author

Erik Magnus is a writer, editor, blogger & webmaster. He is one of the main contributors to Colombia Please & spends a significant portion of each year in the country of Colombia.

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