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What is a Spectacled Bear?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Spectacled bears are unique bears native to South America. Unfortunately, due to hunting and habitat pressures, the spectacled bear is considered to be a vulnerable species, and several conservation organizations would like to see greater protections for the spectacled bear in the wild. These bears are also held in captivity at conservation parks in various regions of the world, where they are bred to ensure that the species remains intact, even if it becomes threatened or extinct in the wild.

These bears are found in Northern and Western South America, and they are the only surviving bear species in South America, so if one sees a bear on this continent, it is safe to assume that it's a spectacled bear. These bears are part of what was once a larger bear group, the short-faced bears, and they are known formally as Tremarctos ornatus. They are also relatively small when compared to bear relatives in other regions of the world.

The distinguishing feature of the spectacled bear is the yellowish to creamy markings which are found on the heads and upper chests of these otherwise black to dark brown animals. Often, these markings do look remarkably like a set of glasses, explaining the common name. These markings are also unique to each bear, and bears are capable of identifying each other from their markings alone; essentially, the marking is like a fingerprint.

The spectacled bear is primarily arboreal, climbing in trees to collect fruit, leaves, insects, and grubs, although these bears will also make dens, especially during breeding season. The spectacled bear found primarily at high altitude, typically in heavily forested regions, and they tend to keep to themselves, expect between April and June, when the bears meet to breed; the females produce litters of two cubs in the summer.

The trait of shyness has made the spectacled bear challenging to study. These bears generally have relaxed dispositions, and they prefer to avoid people, other bears, and potential predators rather than confronting them. As a result, trying to track spectacled bears in the wild is very challenging, and people rarely encounter spectacled bears. These mostly vegetarian animals are not known to be aggressive, despite rumors to the contrary.

In the wild, spectacled bears are hunted by some farmers who think that they are destructive to crops and livestock. The bears are also hunted for body parts used in traditional medicines; many spectacled bear parts make their way to China, where they are sold by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of conditions. This combined with shrinking habitat has put pressure on the bears in the wild.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Logicfest — On Jan 19, 2015

@Soulfox -- I might be wrong, but I thought at least some zoos in capitalist countries like the United States got a considerable amount of public funding. Why? There is a public interest in saving some species such as the spectacled bear, so some provisions are made to allow those activities. If an animal is endangered but is not bringing in crowds of visitors, then the drop in revenue that exhibit could cause is taken into consideration and zoos are compensated accordingly.

By using that hybrid public and private form of funding, ideally zoos should be able to provide popular exhibits and help conserve endangered (but boring!) species. That's the best of both worlds.

By Soulfox — On Jan 18, 2015

@Melonlity -- That is a great sentiment, but it is a bit naive. Like it or not, zoos in capitalist countries have to find ways to make ends meet and make a profit. That means that exhibits that don't give the people what they paid for have to do.

If that means the shy old spectacled bear won't come out to play, then it might mean that particular exhibit must go.

Is that too bad? Sure it is. But it's also reality.

By Melonlity — On Jan 18, 2015

@Vincenzo -- You do have a point, but I hope that zoos are about more than just bringing in customers. Those are supposed to about conservation, too. If you have a threatened species such as the good old spectacled bear, I would hope that the zoos would be among those institutions that would be interested in helping preserve them. Giving endangered species places to live does help preserve the species.

Is that naive? I hope not.

By Vincenzo — On Jan 17, 2015

Their tendency to avoid people is precisely why the spectacled bear is a difficult attraction for people to observe at zoos. They do tend to hide and that makes it hard to justify keeping them in a zoo. We have a couple of those at my local zoo and they are rarely wandering around to be viewed by patrons.

Considering how we are talking about a threatened species, that is something of an irony. Putting those things in zoos helps preserve the species, but it is hard to justify an exhibit that is so evasive. It is no secret that zoos struggle financially from time to time and need to take measures to keep things fresh. An illusive exhibit isn't exactly the type of things that bring in crowds.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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