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Andean Bear
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Andean, or Spectacled, Bear

Order:Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus and Species:Tremarctos ornatus

South America's only bear, the Andean bear lives in a variety of habitats in the Andes.

Physical Description:

Whitish or cream "spectacles" ring this bear's eyes. The light color variably extends down to the throat and chest, giving each individual a unique set of markings. The Andean bear's thick coat is usually either black or brown, rarely tinged with reddish.

Size:

Andean bears grow five to six feet long and stand two to three feet high at the shoulder. Males grow up to 30 percent larger than females, and weigh up to 340 pounds. Females rarely grow heavier than 180 pounds.

Geographic Distribution:

Andean bears live in the Andes range and outlying mountain ranges, from western Venezuela south to Bolivia. A few have been reported from eastern Panama and extreme northern Argentina.

Status:

The Andean bear is listed as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Animals.

Habitat:

Andean bears live in a variety of mountain habitats. Many live between 6,000 and 8,800 feet above sea level, although others inhabit lower elevations. Habitat varies from rainforest, cloud forest, and mossy, stunted elfin forest to thorny dry forest. They will also forage in grassland habitats adjacent to forest.

Natural Diet:

Fruits and bromeliads are favored foods, but Andean bears also eat berries, grasses, bulbs, cactus flowers, insects, and small animals such as rodents, rabbits, and birds. Near settlements, bears sometimes raid corn fields.

Zoo Diet:

The Zoo's Andean bears eat a dry-food mixture (called chow), plus vegetables, including sweet potatoes and carrots, and fruits such as apples, oranges, and grapes.

Reproduction:

Female Andean bears mature between four and seven years of age. During breeding season, from April to June, a male and female will stay together for a week or two, mating often. Cubs—usually one or two—are born from November to February.

Life Span:

The Andean bear's longevity in the wild is unknown, but in captivity Andean bears live to be 20 to 25 years old. An Andean bear at the National Zoo lived to be 33 years old.

Behavior:

Primarily nocturnal, Andean bears climb trees and forage on the ground. They also build stick platforms, which are used for reaching elevated food and for sleeping. Andean bears tear open masses of bromeliads with their sharp claws. Outside breeding season, they travel alone. During the day, they sleep in secluded spots, such as in tree cavities, on tree platforms, between large, exposed tree roots, or in dens dug into cliff faces.

Andean Bear Neighbors:

Andean coati (Nasuella olivacea): A brown-coated forest dweller of the high Andes. Females and young travel in social groups; adult males travel alone. While foraging on the ground, these animals hold their ringed tails high in the air. Mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque): Another mammal unique to the Andes, this thick-coated, small pony-sized vegetarian lives in mountain forests up to the treeline. Puma (Puma concolor): This shy predator stalks a variety of game in a variety of habitats, including the bears' forest homes. South America's most formidable predator, the jaguar (Panthera onca) also lives in bear habitat, but usually only up to about 6,000 feet. Andean condor (Vultur gryphus): The wide-ranging condor, one of the world's largest flying birds, glides and soars high over open, mountainous terrain, looking for carrion.

Fun Facts:


The variability in Andean bears' markings and color led some Peruvians to think two bear species lived in their country—one carnivorous and one vegetarian.

The Andean bear is an important seed dispersor, passing on seeds of laurels (valued hardwoods) and other plants through its droppings.

The Andean bear is the only surviving member of the short-faced bear subfamily, which thrived until about 10,000 years ago.

Each individual Andean bear has it own distinctive set or “fingerprint” of distinct cream or whitish markings on its head, throat and chest.

By Howard Youth