South America can only claim one bear species: the spectacled bear. As such, it has a fair amount of fame and has become a representative species of the tropical Andes. White and pale yellow markings occur around their neck, muzzle, chest, and eyes, offsetting their black fur. The light fur circling their eyes, producing the look of wearing eyeglasses, give them their common name. That being said, not all spectacled bears are bespectacled like this, so being the only bear species in South America makes them more easily identifiable despite their variations in coloring.
These bears have an omnivorous diet comprised of birds, rodents, and insects supplemented with the fruit and greenery of several different plants. They enjoy palms, orchid bulbs, bromeliad hearts, and occasionally tree bark. Ultimately, though meat only makes up around 5% of its diet, these Andean bears are South America’s largest land carnivores.
Unlike many other bears, the spectacled bear does not hibernate and you won’t find it inhabiting dark caves. Rather, they make platforms and nests out of branches and leaves within the Andean trees where the sleep and feed. They have been known to keep to their isolated, protected platforms for days as they wait for their fruit to ripen.
Although they have a pretty varied diet, habitat fragmentation and degradation are threats to the bear’s habitats and food sources. They also still suffer from hunting—from both the local populations as well as commercial ventures. Now, the spectacled bear is another of Ecuador’s endangered animals.
Spectacled bears have a pop culture following with their celebrity, Paddington, who is featured in children’s books as well as a recent movie. Paddington is actually from “deepest, darkest Peru,” not Ecuador, but he does sport some very modish spectacles that further reify his distinctive heritage.