Whitish or cream spectacles encircle these bears' eyes. The light color variably extends down to the animals' throats and chests, giving each individual a unique set of markings. Andean bears' thick coats are usually either black or brown, occasionally tinged with red. Each individual spectacled bear has its own distinctive set, or "fingerprint," of distinct cream or whitish markings on its head, throat and chest.
Spectacled bears grow 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters) long and stand 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters) high at the shoulder. Males grow up to 30 percent larger than females, and weigh up to 340 pounds (154 kilograms). Females rarely grow heavier than 180 pounds (81 kilograms).
Andean bears are South America's only bears and live in the Andes and outlying mountain ranges, from western Venezuela south to Bolivia. A few have been reported from eastern Panama and extreme northern Argentina. Andean bears live in a variety of mountain habitats. Many live between 6,000 and 8,800 feet (1,829 to 2,682 meters) 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 grasslands next to forests.
Fruits and bromeliads are favored foods, but spectacled bears also eat berries, grasses, bulbs, cactus flowers and small animals such as rodents, rabbits and birds. Near settlements, bears sometimes raid cornfields.
Spectacled bears climb trees and forage on the ground. They will build stick platforms to reach elevated food and tear open masses of bromeliads with their sharp claws.
The Smithsonian's National Zoo's Andean bears eat a dry-food mixture (dog 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, males and females stay together for a week or two, mating often. Females experience delayed implantation. This allows the female to give birth during a time when food is abundant—usually between November and February. If there are insufficient resources, the embryo will not implant. Cubs develop for two to three months after implanting. The female gives birth to one or two cubs.
Newborn cubs weigh 10 to 18 ounces at birth, and they are practically bald, toothless and blind. Their eyes generally open at 4 to 6 weeks of age, and they take their first steps soon after. Generally, the cubs do not leave the safety of the den until they are about 3 months old.
Spectacled bears are active primarily at night. During the day, spectacled bears sleep in secluded spots, such as in tree cavities, on tree platforms, between large, exposed tree roots, or in dens dug into cliff faces.
While their average age in human care is around 20 years, it is not uncommon for them to live into their late twenties or occasionally into their early thirties. The Andean bear's longevity in the wild is unknown.
Andean bears no longer live in Chile, where they were first described by Western explorers in 1825. However, they can still be found in many parts of their historical range where habitat remains. Habitat destruction and hunting pose the greatest threats to their survival. Poachers sell bear parts to traditional medicine dealers or eat the bear's meat. In addition, people kill bears where they raid cornfields and because they erroneously believe they kill livestock.
In recent decades, spectacled bear numbers declined dramatically in Venezuela, Colombia and Peru. However, healthy populations remain in Ecuador and Bolivia. The Andean bear shares its habitat with many other animals. By protecting Andean bear habitat, conservationists hope to protect these and many other animals, such as the Andean coati, mountain tapir, jaguar and Andean condor.
- Support organizations like the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute that research better ways to protect and care for this animal and other endangered species. Consider donating your time, money or goods.
- Share the story of this animal with others. Simply raising awareness about this species can contribute to its overall protection.