Spectacled bears are the only surviving species of bear native to South America. These are mid-sized animals with short but strong legs. Their fur is blackish in color, though bears may vary from jet black to dark brown and to even a reddish hue. Spectacled bears typically have distinctive beige or ginger-colored markings across their face and upper chest, though not all bears have "spectacle" markings. Males are a third larger than females in dimensions and sometimes twice their weight.
Spectacled bears are mostly restricted to certain areas of northern and western South America. They range in western Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and western Bolivia. The species is found almost entirely in the Andes Mountains. Spectacled bears are found in a wide variety of habitats and altitudes throughout their range, including cloud forests, high-altitude grasslands, dry forests, and scrub deserts. The best habitats for these animals are humid to very humid montane forests.
The Spectacled bear is an arboreal species. In Andean cloud forests, they may be active both during the day and night, but in Peruvian desert are reported to bed down under vegetative cover during the day. Spectacled bears have an ability to climb even the tallest trees of the Andes due to their continued survival alongside humans. They usually retreat from the presence of humans, often by climbing trees. Once up a tree, they may often build a platform, perhaps to aid in concealment, as well as to rest and store food on. Although Spectacled bears are solitary and tend to isolate themselves from one another to avoid competition, they are not territorial. They may even feed in small groups at abundant food sources. Males are reported to have an average home range of 23 km2 (8.9 sq mi) during the wet season and 27 km2 (10 sq mi) during the dry season. Females have an average home range of 10 km2 (3.9 sq mi) in the wet season and 7 km2 (2.7 sq mi) in the dry season. When encountered by humans or other Spectacled bears, they will react in a docile but cautious manner, unless the intruder is seen as a threat or a mother's cubs are endangered. Like other bears, mothers are protective of their young and have attacked poachers.
Spectacled bears are more herbivorous than most other bears and only about 5 to 7% of their diet is meat. The most common foods include cactus, bromeliads palm nuts, bamboo hearts, frailejon, orchid bulbs, fallen fruit on the forest floor, and unopened palm leaves. They also eat cultivated plants, such as sugarcane, honey, and corn, and may travel above the tree line for berries. Animal prey includes rabbits, mice, other rodents, birds at the nest, arthropods, and carrion.
Spectacled bears are polygynous and the mating pair usually stay together only for 1-2 weeks. The breeding season may occur at almost any time of the year but normally peaks in April and June, at the beginning of the wet season when is the peak of fruit-ripening. Births usually occur in the dry season, between December and February. The gestation period is 5.5 to 8.5 months. Females give birth to 1-3 cubs, with 2 being the average. The cubs are born with their eyes closed and weigh about 300 to 330 g (11 to 12 oz) each. Births usually occur in a small den and the female waits until the cubs can see and walk before she leaves with them. The cubs often stay with their mother for 1 year before striking out on their own. In captivity, reproductive maturity is usually reached at between 4 and 7 years of age for both sexes.
Spectacled bears are threatened due to poaching and habitat loss. Poaching might have several reasons: trophy hunting, pet trade, religious or magical beliefs, natural products trade and conflicts with humans. Conflicts with humans, however, appear to be the most common cause of poaching in large portions of their distribution. Andean bears are often suspected of attacking cattle and raiding crops and are killed for retaliation or in order to avoid further damages. Perhaps the most epidemic problem for the species is extensive logging and farming, which has led to habitat loss for the largely tree-dependent bears. As little as 5% of the original habitat in Andean cloud forest remains. Shortage of natural food sources might push bears to feed on crops or livestock, increasing the conflict that usually results in poaching of an individual.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of Spectacled bears is around 2,500-10,000 mature individuals. There are estimated populations of the species in the following areas: Venezuela - 1,100-1,600 bears; Colombia - 3,000-6,000 bears; Ecuador - 1,200-2,000 bears; Peru - around 5,000 bears; Bolivia - around 3,000 bears. Currently, Spectacled bears are classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are decreasing.