Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus)

Also known as: Andean bear
French: Ours À Lunettes, Ours Andin
Spanish: Oso De Anteojos, Oso Frontino, Oso Real
GenusTremarctos (1)
SizeHead-body length: 120 - 200 cm (2) (3)
Shoulder height: 70 - 90 cm (2)
Tail length: ca. 7 cm (3)
Male weight: 100 - 175 kg (2)
Female weight: 60 - 80 kg (2)

Classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (4).

The second largest terrestrial mammal in South America (2) and the only bear species to occur there (1), the spectacled bear is named for the white facial markings that encircle the eyes (2) (3). The dense coat is brown or black in colour, sometimes with a reddish tinge, and the white or cream facial markings extend onto the neck and chest. The pattern of these markings is highly variable (2) (3), and may be absent altogether in some individuals (2) (3) (5). The head is rounded, and the snout is relatively short compared to other bear species. The male spectacled bear is larger than the female (5) (6).

Found throughout the Andes mountain range in South America, from western Venezuela to the northwest of Argentina (2) (3) (6) (7) (8).

The spectacled bear has a reputation for being adaptable, as it is found in a wide variety of habitats and altitudes throughout its range, including cloud forests, high altitude grasslands, dry forest and scrub desert, at altitudes of 250 to 4,750 metres, to the snowline (2) (3) (6) (9).

Very little is known about the spectacled bear even though it is one of the largest mammals in South America. It is believed to be diurnal (6) (7) (9), and has been observed to make nests in the trees whilst foraging or resting (3). Like other bears, it is an omnivore, although vegetation appears to make up the majority of the diet, particularly fruit of plants from the Bromeliad family. Other items taken include cacti, bamboo hearts, palm petioles, corn, rodents, birds, insects, and sometimes livestock and carrion. The spectacled bear will also strip bark from trees to feed on the nutritious layer beneath (2) (3) (6) (9).

The spectacled bear is generally solitary, although it has occasionally been seen feeding in small groups. Mating may occur at various times of year, and the female usually gives birth to 1 to 3 cubs between December and February, after a gestation period of 5.5 to 8.5 months (2) (3) (6). The cubs may stay with the female for up to a year (6). Predators of spectacled bear cubs include pumas (Puma concolor), jaguars (Panthera onca), and adult male bears (6) (9) (10). The spectacled bear may live for up to 39 years in captivity (2).

Habitat destruction and fragmentation have been rife in the area that this bears inhabits and are likely to have been major causes of its decline in numbers (1) (11). In addition, spectacled bears can be persecuted by local farmers who blame them for killing cattle and for destroying maize crops (1) (2) (3). Sadly, habitat fragmentation is bringing bears and humans into greater proximity, leading to increased human-bear conflict (6) (7) (12) (13).

The spectacled bear is also hunted for its meat, skin, fat and claws, which are all in demand locally (1) (3) (9) (11). The gall bladders are occasionally marketed, being of value in traditional oriental medicine, and can fetch a high price on the international market (9). Recent estimates put the price at US$150 for one, which is five times the average monthly wage in Ecuador (11). Mining, road development and oil exploration are also increasing threats to the spectacled bear’s habitat (1).

Protection of the spectacled bear is nominal in much of its range; it is legally protected but the enforcement is under-funded (1) (11). International trade is banned by the listing of this bear on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (4). There are a number of national parks that contain spectacled bears, but these often vast areas are massively understaffed and therefore ineffective for their conservation (1) (11). Kölner Zoo in Germany (14) coordinates the International Studbook for this species, and a captive breeding programme is also underway in Venezuela (11).

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has led the development of a regional conservation strategy for the species in the Northern Andes (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru), with the support of other international organisations and local NGOs from the region (5). The Andean Bear Conservation Project of Ecuador also directs a program of reintroduction into the wild for spectacled bears that have been rescued from hunters or kept in captivity (15), while in Venezuela the AndígenA Foundation is carrying out a series of environmental education and research projects for spectacled bear conservation in the Venezuelan Andes, and advising conservation initiatives in other countries within the range of this charismatic bear (16).

To find out more about the conservation of this and other bear species, see:

For more information on the spectacled bear, visit:

Authenticated (23/09/09) by J. Fernando Del Moral, AndígenA Foundation Associate Researcher:
http://www.andigena.org / Member of the International Association for Bear Research and Management.

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2009)
  2. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
  3. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  4. CITES (March, 2003)
  5. WWF: Spectacled Bear (September, 2009)
  6. Servheen, C., Herrero, S. and Peyton, B. (1999) Bears: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Bear and Polar Bear Specialist Groups, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
  7. Velez-Liendo, X. (2006) Pers. comm.
  8. Del Moral, J.F. and Bracho, A.E. (2009) Indicios indirectos de la presencia del oso andino (Tremarctos ornatus Cuvier, 1825) en el noroeste de Argentina. Rev. Mus. Argentino Cienc. Nat., 11: 69-76.
  9. Figueroa, J. and Stucchi, M. (2009) El Oso Andino: Alcances Sobre su Historia Natural. Asociación para la Investigación y Conservación de la Biodiversidad-AICB, Lima, Peru.
  10. Paisley, S. (2001) Andean Bears and People in Apolobamba, Bolivia: Culture, Conflicts and Conservation. Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology. University of Kent, Canterbury, UK.
  11. WWF: Spectacled Bear - Threats (April, 2003)
  12. Goldstein, I., Paisley, S., Wallace, R., Jorgenson, J.P., Cuesta, F. and Castellanos, A. (2006) Andean bear-livestock conflicts: a review. Ursus, 17: 8-15.
  13. Torres, D. (2008) Caracterización de Conflictos Socio-Espaciales entre la Ganadería y los Grandes Mamíferos Carnívoros en el Sector Cuenca del Río Nuestra Señora, Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada, Venezuela. Trabajo Especial de Grado, Escuela de Geografía, Facultad de Ciencias Forestales y Ambientales, Universided de los Andes, Mérida, Venezuela.
  14. Kölner Zoo (September, 2009)
  15. Andean Bear Conservation Project (September, 2009)
  16. AndígenA Foundation (September, 2009)