South America's only bear, the Andean bear lives in a variety of habitats in the Andes.
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.
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.
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.
The Andean bear is listed as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Animals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ZooGoer 28(2) 1999.
Copyright 1999 Friends of the National Zoo.
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