Saturday, February 13, 2010

SPOTLIGHT ON FAUNA - Spectacled Bear

Long before the time of the Huarí and the Inca, something else roamed the hills and valleys of the Andes. The Spectacled or Andean Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is the only member of the bear family present in South America. Its name derives from the rings of white fur around the eyes of many individuals that give the impression of eyeglasses. Usually living anywhere from 1,800 to 3,300 meters above sea-level, Spectacled Bears will venture into the lowlands to raid cornfields when food supplies are low. Although these bears reach nearly 400 lbs, they manage to sustain themselves on a diet of roots, tubers, and shoots, supplemented by an occasional rodent or other small animal.

Spectacled Bears range from Venezuela and Colombia south into Argentina, always in the Andes Mountains or in smaller associated cordilleras. Much of the habitat is remote and of difficult access, but bears are still hunted for medicinal purposes or because of crop raiding. Even inspired hikers and trekkers count themselves lucky if they glimpse this impressive creature in the wild. The zoo in Cusco has several extremely large specimens, and there are others in some US zoos. We have been privileged to see Spectacled Bears in the high páramo of the Colombian Andes while they fed on massive Puya bromeliads. But the all-time prize goes to a GreenTracks group visiting Madidi National Park in Bolivia: in one week they saw a Spectacled Bear and two jaguars!

When we hike the Inca Trail or visit the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, our thoughts naturally turn to the ancient civilization that once occupied the region, but we are always aware that we are also in territory still inhabited by the Spectacled bear.



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