Animal of the Month
March 2016

Name: Spectacled Bear (AKA Oso Achupayero, Yanapuma, Ucucu, Yura Mateo)
Scientific Name: Tremarctos ornatus
Classification: Mammal

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Tremarctos

Number of Species: 1
Size: 5 ½-6 ½ feet long, tail 2 ¾-4 ¾ inches long
Weight: 310-390lbs


Characteristics:

Color(s): Black, with a pale snout and light “spectacle” patches around the eyes
Behavior: Nocturnal. Mostly vegetarian. Solitary and very shy.
Preferred Habitat: Mountain forests, jungles, steppes and costal deserts
Range: Northern Argentina, Venezuela, Columbia, Peru and Bolivia.
Diet: Various plants, including cacti, fruit and berries. Sometimes will eat
small birds, rodents, insects or even cows.
Lifespan: Around 20 years in the wild, up to 25 years in captivity..

Status: The Tremarctos ornatus is classed as Vulnerable.

 

South America is home to many famed species such as the jaguar, the spider monkey, and the capybara. But there is one species that isn’t commonly given credit as a South American denizen: the spectacled bear! Spectacled bears are one of the smallest of the bear species, at about five or six feet long. They live in western South America, ranging from Northern Argentina to Bolivia, Venezuela, Columbia and Peru. They are very shy and prefer mountain forests or jungles, though they can also be found in costal deserts and steppes. These bears are the last of the short-faced bears, a line of bear that went almost totally extinct 10,000 years ago.

Spectacled bears get their name from the creamy circles around their eyes, which sort of resemble spectacles. They are mostly black, though the front part of their bodies can vary wildly in coloration. The bears are so varied in their coloration that each bear has its own unique patterns on its paws, the spectacled bear equivalents of fingerprints! All of these differences in color once mislead the people of the Andes to believe that there were two species of bear—one carnivorous and one herbivorous. The spectacled bear is important in the mythology of many Andean cultures. These peoples have different names for the bear, including oso achupayero, yrua mateo (“white-fronted bear”) (“bromaeliad-eating bear"), yanapuma (“black puma”) and ucucu (after one of the calls it makes).

These bears are nocturnal and mostly vegetarian, eating a variety of tough plant matter including cacti. They will also eat fruits, berries and honey. These bears will often take residence in the trees. They build stick platforms in the branches, from which they can sleep or gather food.

Sometimes they will eat smaller rodents, birds, insects or even cows! Spectacled bears are nocturnal, and are solitary except when they seek out mates. They breed most often from April to June, though they may mate at any time of the year if the food is plentiful enough. Males and females will form a partnership for a week or two. After the young are born the male will leave and the female will raise the cubs on her own. The female will make a den in a hollow of rocks or tree roots. The cubs’ eyes open 42 days after they are born, and they will start to venture out of the den at around three months old. The mother will teach them how to gather food and to handle danger for two years before the cubs go on their own.

Spectacled bears are currently listed as vulnerable by the ICUN, meaning that they are not endangered but they are most certainly threatened. These bears are threatened by habitat destruction as humans push further and further into their range. Much of their habitat is transformed into farmland, which tempts the bears to raid crops. Farmers often feel that they must kill the bears to protect their crops. The bears are also victims of hunting, the purposes ranging from cultural fears to subsistence hunting. Many bears are also hunted for the black market, their gall bladders being used in traditional medicines. It is important to remember, there is NO scientific basis for any traditional medicines that use the body parts of animals!

It is estimated that around 3,000 spectacle bears remain in the wild. Fortunately, there is still time to preserve the habitat of these bears, as well as the bears themselves.

To help protect these lesser-known south American bears, check out these awesome organizations and websites!

Spectacled Bears Conservation Society—Dedicated to preserving the spectacled bears of Peru.
http://sbc-peru.org/pages/en/home.php

World Wildlife Fund; Spectacled Bear page—Here the WWF gives facts about the bears, threats to their survival, and what the WWF is doing to assist them.
http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/species/profiles/mammals/spectacled_bear/

 

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