Endemic to the Tropical Andes, the Andean Bear or Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is the only native species of bear in South America.
Oso Andino / Andean Bear
Geographical Range The Andean Bear can be found throughout mountainous regions of the Andes in Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia and in northwestern Argentina.
Andean Bear range
The only bear species to occur in South America, the Andean Bear is the second largest terrestrial mammal after the Lowland Tapir at 272 kg (600 lb). The Andean or Spectacled Bear is named after the white facial marks around the eyes. The dense coat is brown or black in colour, sometimes with a reddish tinge; the white or cream facial markings extend onto the neck and chest. Males can weigh from 100 to 200 kg (220 to 440 lb), while females are much smaller at 35 to 82 kg (77 to 181 lb). Body length ranges from 120 to 200 cm (47–79 in). The shoulder height is between 60 and 90 cm (24–30 in).
The Andean Bear is locally known as ukuko, jukumari or ucumari. It is the last remaining short-faced bear (subfamily Tremarctinae) and the closest living relative to the Florida spectacled bear and short-faced bears of the Middle Pleistocene to Late Pleistocene age. It is likely that Andean Bear populations will decline by more than 30% with habitat loss at a rate of 2-4% per year.
Diet Andean bears are omnivores, feeding mainly on fruits and succulent plants and occasionally carcass meat. However, food habits change from site to site and even within sites depending on the availability of particular resources. Tree and ground nests are used for resting where Andean bears feed on fruits high in the tree canopy and at sites where bears consume animal carcasses.
Oso Andino / Andean Bear – Beautiful close-up!
Major Threats Poaching is a serious threat throughout the Andean bear range. Bears are often killed after damaging crops, particularly maize, or after purportedly killing livestock. Also, Andean Bear products are used for medicinal or ritual purposes; in some places, Andean bear meat is highly prized. Cubs are also captured and sold. Human-induced mortality endangers the survival of small populations. Mining, road development and oil exploration are also increasing threats to the Andean Bear’s habitat.
The lack of knowledge about the distribution and status of the Andean Bear, habitat loss and fragmentation along poaching are the principal threats to this species.
Oso Andino / Andean Bear – Succulent plants are a great part of their diet
Eco-system Roles The role of the Andean Bear in the eco-system remains largely unknown. Because of their largely herbivorous diet it is likely that they play a role in seed dispersal.
Reproduction Much of the mating behaviour of this species in the wild remains unknown. Mating season is between April and June. The pair remains together for one to two weeks. One to three cubs may be born, eyes closed and weighing about 300 to 330 g (11 to 12 oz) each. This species does not give birth during the hibernation cycle as do northern bear species. Births usually occur in a small den and the female waits until the cubs can see and walk before she leaves with them. Not much is known about the average lifespan of a wild bear, but it is believed to be around 20 years.
Oso Andino / Andean Bear (image C. Burnett)
International Market The Andean Bear is hunted also for its meat, skin, fat and claws, which are all in demand locally. The gall bladders are marketed internationally. Being of value in traditional oriental medicine, they can fetch a high price. Recent estimates put the price at US$150 for one gall bladder, which is five times the average monthly wage in Ecuador.
Oso Andino / Andean Bear – Ecuatorian farmer holding bear feet
Human-Bear Conflict As little of 5% of the original habitat in Andean cloud forest remains. As the bear’s food sources dissapear, they turn to rely on crops for food. So, farmers see the bears as competition and hunt them.
Oso Andino / Andean Bear (image Kuribo)
This video shows the extraordinary Andean Bear climbing prowess –and adult with a cub trailling along:
Film producers on an exploratory mission in Peru say it is an extraordinarily rare privilege to capture a wild Andean Bar on film like this:
Baby needed a little help!
ANDEAN BEAR CONSERVATION
Unfortunately, still no species-level conservation efforts are known to exist for the Andean Bear. Each government has made differing commitments to conservation in the bear’s range. The IUCN has recommended expansion and implementation of conservation land to prevent further development, greater research and monitoring of threats, better management of current conservation areas, stewardship programs for bears which engage local residents and the education of the public –especially the benefits of conserving the species as part of the eco-system.
The Andean Bear Foundation
The Don Oso (Mr Bear) Program In English with a nice school workbook in Spanish for children
The Spectacled Bear Conservation Society (Peru)
Other Andean species endangered, from my previous posts:
The Andean Cat
The Andean Condor
Sources: arkive.com, wikipedia, ADW