Working to save the Andean Bear from extinction
Scientific name: Tremarctos ornatus
Weight: Up to 155 kg
Length: 1.5- 2 m
Habitat: Shrubland, grassland and forest.
Diet: Fruit, berries, honey, insects, cacti, marmalade sandwiches
The Andean bear is the last living species of bear native to South America. One famous bear of this species is known to wear a red hat and has a predilection for marmalade.
Andean bears are found in the Andean mountains throughout Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela. They live between 200 and 4750m above sea level, thriving in humid climates where the species they eat are plentiful. Omnivorous, around 5% of their diet is meat such as insects or rodents, with the rest coming from fruit, berries and cacti.
They are generally blackish in colour but can also be dark brown or reddish. Also known as spectacled bears, they have distinctive markings around their eyes that look like they are wearing a pair of furry glasses. These markings are unique to each bear and can be used to identify individuals.
Paddington Bear came from deepest, darkest Peru - so must therefore be an Andean spectacled bear!
The Andean bear was given the conservation status ‘vulnerable’ by IUCN in 2017. Habitat loss has had devastating effects on Andean bear populations. This has occurred for a number of reasons, including an increase in land used for agriculture, coal mining and oil exploitation, which can contaminate water and soil, and climate change. Of all the habitats most susceptible to loss due to climate change, the tropical Andes ranks highest. This is due to the upslope displacement trend observed. Reduction in rainfall also affects this humid climate greatly. The result means that the Andean bear’s habitat quality and land use patterns are affected, which can in turn result in a greater number of human encounters. These can be deadly - around 180 Andean bears are killed by humans every year for a range of reasons, such as retaliation for destroying crops or killing cattle, trophy hunting and cultural or medical beliefs.
What Earlham Institute is doing.
Alongside collaborators in Colombia and at the Natural History Museum, who are using innovative sampling techniques to get DNA samples from bears across their fragmented range, we will conduct population genomic analyses to assess population viability and genomic diversity of this iconic Colombian species.
This project - part of the international GROW Colombia collaboration - will provide the basis of a contemporary conservation strategy for this vulnerable species. We will be able to assess genetic diversity within and between isolated bear populations, and identify important conservation corridors in order to develop effective population management plans.