The only bear species native to South America, the Spectacled Bear is named for the distinctive white markings around the eyes, which often create the impression of white glasses. It’s a rare inhabitant of dense cloud forests and páramo (high alpine grassland) throughout the Andes, and poaching and habitat loss has caused their population to decrease to around 10,000 individuals. Last autumn, Josh Vandermeulen and Laura Bond found this Spectacled Bear in the Mindo Valley of Ecuador – a very lucky find indeed!
Because most Spectacled Bears live in heavily forested environments, they have adopted an arboreal lifestyle. It makes sense, then, that the Spectacled Bear is one of the smaller members of the bear family, since a smaller size enables them to move through the trees with ease.
Spectacled Bears are omnivores, but plant matter can make up to 95% of their diet. Josh and Laura watched this individual rip apart several massive bromeliads to eat the juicy inner parts. Other favoured food sources include bamboo hearts, unopened palm leaves, avocados and orchids (notably the ‘pseudobulb’, which as the prominent swellings at the base of the stems of many orchids). Much of the vegetation that Spectacled Bears eat is very tough to digest for other wildlife, and so this bear species is one of few mammals which can exploit this resource.
Quest Nature Tours is heading to Ecuador in the autumn of 2021. One of the locations which the tour will visit is the Maquipucuna Reserve; here, there may be a chance to observe Spectacled Bears feeding on fruiting trees (fingers crossed!).