The Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is the only bear in South America and is endemic to the tropical andes. Andean bears live along the Andean mountain range from Venezuela to the south of Bolivia and are terrestrial, as well as arboreal. They are omnivorous, although meat is only a small part of their diet. They are also known as ukuku (in Quechua), and as spectacled bear, and they are an important part of the Andean and Amazonian cosmovision. They are thought to be mediators between the worlds of the living and the dead, and the Matsiguenga peoples consider it the creator of life, the Maeni. Internationally, the Andean bear gained fame as Paddington, who travelled to England from “darkest Peru.”
This bear is constantly threatened due to changes in territory use, which has fragmented its habitat size, as well as hunting by humans (usually in retaliation of perceived livestock attacks or for use of their body parts for traditional medicine and rituals). Additionally, its elusive nature prevents it from being extensively researched, which makes its protection and management all the harder. Finally, the responsible institutions for its conservation throughout its distribution are poorly financed and lack resources.
We work with the Andean bear since 1977, when WCS financed Bernard Peyton’s study on Andean bear populations in Peru. Currently, we work to strengthen the institutions that protect the bear through workshops, technical support in planning and monitoring, as well as provisioning of manuals related to human-bear conflict. We are one of the founding members of the Andean Bear Alliance, associated with the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the IUCN Bear Specialist Group, whose goal is to provide the necessary funding for the conservation efforts of the Andean bear, as well as the coordination for research and conservation efforts throughout its range for greater impact.
10 facts about the Andean bear:
1. It can measure up to 2 m in height and weight up to 130 kg, with males being bigger than females.
2. It is also known as the spectacled bear, due to the markings around its eyes that look like eyeglasses.
3. What do pandas and Andean bears have in common? The two of them have huge heads in comparison with their bodies!
4. In addition to plants, Andean bears also eat insects, and rarely, eggs and animal meat.
5. Many cultures believe that their claws have medicinal properties, which is a threat to its population.
6. Although they don’t seem it, Andean bears are great swimmers and climbers.
7. They build platforms on top of trees where they take naps and take their food to digest.
8. Andean bears are solitary, but they seem to leave messages on trees for other individuals, signaling their path with their odors.
9. They don’t hibernate.
10. An Andean bear female can have 2 to 4 cubs per pregnancy.
Top photo: Walter H. Wust