Andean Bear

Andean Bear Photo
The Andean bear is the only bear species native to South America.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

Also known as a spectacled bear, the Andean bear often has light fur resembling huge glasses around its eyes. The only surviving example of the once-common “short-faced” bears, the Andean bear is the last remnant of an evolutionary line that would otherwise be extinct. The species inhabits the mountainous regions of western Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. The Andean bear’s preferred habitat is high-altitude páramo grasslands and dense cloud forests in steep, remote regions where the bears are rarely seen.

Andean bears love to eat fruit and move about in search of ripening bounty. Their diet also includes tender bamboo, Bromeliad hearts, rodents, and insects—although animal matter comprises only a miniscule amount of their food consumption. The wide-ranging Andean bears once had a safe haven in the undeveloped habitat of the Andean foothills, but this land is increasingly being chopped up for agriculture, grazing lands, and human settlements. The future of this wondrous species depends on the creation of a network of protected areas that can sustain the bears in the wild.

Fast Facts

Scientific NameTremarctos ornatus
  • The Andean bear is South America’s only bear species.
  • These fruit-loving bears sometimes build platforms of broken branches high in trees so they can sit, eat, and easily reach more fruit.
  • Some Andean indigenous groups revere spectacled bears as spiritual mediators.

Challenges

Over the past several decades, deforestation has caused dramatic declines in Andean bear populations, and recent estimates suggest that fewer than 18,000 bears survive in the wild today. Habitat fragmentation and loss throughout their range poses a serious challenge to the species, and Andean bears are hunted for their meat, skin, and fur in some places. As their home turf disappears, Andean bears increasingly raid domestic crops and livestock for sustenance, putting them at risk of retaliatory killings by farmers. Sprawling agricultural lands in their range have also degraded the quality of important watersheds.

WCS Responds

WCS has been studying Andean bears since 1976 and is at the forefront of research and conservation activities happening throughout the bear’s range. Because these bears require large expanses of forest and live at low population densities, WCS carries out conservation efforts at the local and regional scales to save this species from habitat loss and other threats. For instance, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, our efforts helped create of a series of protected areas in the Venezuelan Andes. Today, WCS leads Andean bear conservation projects across the species’ range, from Venezuela to Bolivia. WCS also hosts workshops with hunters and government officials while reaching out to the public about Andean bear conservation through school presentations and zoo exhibits.

WCS Projects

Sustaining biological and cultural diversity in Bolivia

Bolivia’s Madidi-Tambopata landscape has a wide range of altitudes as well as a high diversity of ecosystems and peoples. WCS works to conserve its cultural and biological heritage via initiatives that improve land-use and livelihoods.

From the Newsroom

WCS-Bolivia Partner Receives Prestigious Equator PrizeSeptember 30, 2010

The Tsimané Mosetene Regional Council, WCS’s local partner in the montane rainforests of Bolivia, received the award at a ceremony held on September 20 in New York, honoring its efforts to reduce poverty through sustainable development and biodiversity conservation.

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