Where to Spot the Spectacled Bear in Colombia?

One of the smallest bear species, the Spectacled Bear or Andean Bear is recognized as the guardian of the Andes and gardener par excellence. We invite you to discover this species that inhabits the Colombian territory and other South American countries.

Spectacled bear Facts

  1. South America: The spectacled bear or Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is native to South America;
  2. Endemic: It is the only species of bear that inhabits South America, and it is endemic to the tropical Andes.
  3. Ancient: It has inhabited South America for more than five million years.
  4. Last of its kind: It is the only living representative of the short-nosed bears, a group that inhabited only the American continent.
  5. Big Territories: This bear needs large areas to be able to feed and look for mates.
  6. Forest Engineer: The Andean bear has an efficient role as a seed disperser, making it fundamental for paramo and the Andean Forest.
  7. Wide distribution: The spectacled bear is present in the forests of Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina (in the northern forests) and Colombia (with presence in the 3 mountain ranges, in protected areas).
  8. Highlander: They are able to live at altitudes of up to 4,750 meters above sea level and it is not normal for them to frequent altitudes below 2000 meters.
  9. Bioindicator: the presence of Spectacled bears indicates the availability of water and that nearby forests are in perfect condition.

Characteristics of the Spectacled Bear

Spectacled Bear rescued at La Planada Nature Reserve. Its name is Arcoiris (Rainbow)

One of the most important characteristics is the presence of white fur around the eyes in a circular shape, making its shape like that of a pair of glasses. There are many specimens where this white fur extends to the chest.

The size, coloration and shape of these white spots are usually different in each individual and are characteristics that are often used for identification at this level. The rest of their body fur is dark brown or black.

They are a very small species of bear; adult males reach a size of 100 to 200 kilograms while adult female spectacled bears weigh only 30 to 85 kilograms.

It is a species that normally remains alone, only when the female is in mating season can be observed accompanied. Spectacled bears only remain with their mother until they are one and a half years old, after which they separate from the litter.

Spectacled bears reach sexual maturity between 4 and 7 years of age. It is known that they can mate at any time of the year, although the highest reproductive activity is registered in April and June. Usually a female gives birth to a litter of 2 cubs, but sometimes 3 cubs are born after a gestation period of 5.5-8.5 months.

It is not aggressive, you may be surprised to find a bear that by instinct will stand on two legs when it feels invaded in its space or confused by the intruder in its habitat, but it will not try to attack if it sees a distant and clueless individual.

Where to Find the Spectacled bear in Colombia

There are many places in Colombia where the Andean bear is distributed, but seeing it is a fortuitous event. The places where you can have more luck to see the Spectacled bear in Colombia are:

Natural National Park Chingaza

During hiking activities in the páramo it is possible to see Andean bears directly or indirectly. Also on the trails you may be able to see tracks on the ground, scratches on the trees, territory marking, bedding and feeding troughs.

Surroundings of the Natural National Park Las Orquideas

Since 2016 there is registration in this protected area of the bear, so that in the stipulated trails there is evidence of the presence of bears; on very few occasions visitors have been able to make a direct sighting; the park caretakers if they have had the opportunity to see families of bears.

El Verjón, Near Bogota

This is the first time that the spectacled bear has been seen so close to an urban area; last July. 2021, a surprising spectacled bear was seen walking in the Cerros Orientales of the city of Bogotá. The sighting of the animal was recorded in a security camera video.

Municipality of Íquira

In the buffer zone of the Cerro Banderas Ojo Blanco Regional Integrated Management District (DRMI) and Nevado del Huila National Natural Park, a male bear was spotted by camera traps. In the department of Huila there are other municipalities where records of this endangered species have been documented in Santa María, Garzón, Guadalupe, Neiva, Algeciras, Colombia, Palermo, Teruel, Pitalito and San Agustín.

Threats to the Spectacled Bear

Currently, human encroachment on the spectacled bear’s habitat has caused a high percentage of deforestation, due to the increase of the agricultural frontier, which has caused the bears to move to higher and higher areas in the mountain range.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development have catalogued the spectacled bear as a species vulnerable to extinction.

Biological Corridor in Colombia for the Spectacled Bear

When we talk about a biological corridor is habitat for different species of wildlife, this time we will tell you the one that has the spectacled bear, tremarctos ornatus by the southwest and west of the department of Antioquia. This corridor can be identified in the following municipalities:

  • Jardín – Tamesis ( 28061 ha).
  • Andes – Betania – Ciudad Bolivar ( Farallones del Citará 30875 ha)
  • Salgar – Betulia (Cuchilla cerro plateado alto San José 8900 ha)
  • Urrao (29870 ha)
  • Anzá- Caicedo – Santa Fe de Antioquia (10087 ha)
  • Las Orquideas NPP (32000 ha )
  • Frontino ( 30139 ha)
  • Abraqui – Cañas Gordas – Giraldo ( 6900)

Currently the department of Antioquia is promoting a project for the conservation of the spectacled bear corridor, promoting:

  • The restoration of the forests
  • The protection and monitoring of the species present.
  • Establishing limits of the biological corridor and monitoring compliance.
  • Controlling the expansion of the agricultural frontier.
  • Constant education of the community in the conservation and protection of the biological corridor.
  • Development of projects for sustainable agricultural practices.

Ecological importance and importance in cultural and nature tourism

In addition to its ecological importance, the Andean bear has also been an emblematic animal, involved in the development of many of the indigenous and peasant cultures in the Andean countries. For many it is sacred, for others the big brother of the human being. In the oral traditions of the peoples, the bear is found in legends, tales, songs and myths.

The Andean bear is reflected in the common names of some plants, such as “la mano de oso” (Oreopanax bogotensis) and “la hierba del oso” (Xerophyllum tenax).

It is also very common to find sites or places that receive their names honoring the Andean bear: Alto del Oso (Colombia), Cueva del Oso (Ecuador), Quebrada El Oso (Colombia, Peru, Venezuela), Vereda del Oso (Colombia), among others. Thus, the Andean bear is part of the cultural heritage and worldview of the countries of the Andean region.

Birds in colombia
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About the author

Luisa Martin

Engineer, world traveler, amateur photographer, traveling blogger, and foody.

Sara Colmenares

The current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism-environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services, and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.