Species name: Andean or spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), sometimes referred to as the Andean short-faced bear for its unique abbreviated snout. The bears are the only member of their genus and the last surviving species of the Tremarctinae subfamily, all others of which died out millennia ago.
Notable characteristics: These mid-sized bears (about one-third the size of grizzlies) have black-brown fur broken only by the “spectacle” pattern of beige and white around their eyes and snouts. Although their teeth are adapted for eating flesh, they vastly prefer cactus, bamboo, bromeliads, fruit and bark, all of which make up about 95 percent of their diets. (Sorry “Paddington” fans, real spectacled bears don’t eat marmalade. Also please note the complete absence of hats and raincoats on wild bears.)
Where found: The only ursine species in South America, the spectacled bear ranges through much of the tropical Andes, including populations in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. (In the books, Paddington is said to have traveled to London via lifeboat from “Darkest Peru.”)
IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable to extinction. The most recent population estimates put the species at about 16,000-20,000 individuals.
Major threat: As we have seen with so many other large predators, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and poaching pose the biggest threats to spectacled bears. Logging, mining, oil exploration, agriculture and roads have whittled away at the bears’ habitats for decades, while hunting (both for food and as retaliation for raided crops) results in a few hundred killed bears every year.
Notable conservation programs: Quite a few, actually. The Wildlife Conservation Society has been active in studying the species since 1976 and helped to establish several protected areas. They also just published a massive new study (pdf) identifying many of the habitats necessary to protect the bears in Bolivia and Peru. The Spectacled Bear Conservation Society also operates in Peru, where it works with landowners and rural communities to improve relationships with bears, which frequently munch on maize and sugarcane crops. The Andean Bear Foundation has similar operations in Ecuador. Both organizations also conduct vital research necessary to understanding how to conserve spectacled bears in the future.
Multimedia: You can see the “Paddington” trailer here:
And here’s some footage of real-life spectacled bears (including a young cub) climbing trees in Peru:
Finally, check out this brand-new camera-trap footage, just released today:
Spectacled bear photo by Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license. “Paddington” photo via StudioCanal