Spectacled bears were given the name because it’s face mask markings of semi-circles around the eyes resemble eyeglasses. Also known as the Andean Bear from their only remaining habitat in the Andes Mountains. The sole survivor of the short-faced bears were isolated in South America after the last ice age.
Their evolutionary path took them from eastern Asia- fifteen million years ago. Taking the trail that led across the Bering Land Bridge in what is present day Alaska. For over ten million years they made their home in North America. During which ice ages occurred about every 100,000 years, the bears migrated south and adapted to tropical central America.
Scientists believe that bears and dogs share a common ancestor. About 38 million years ago- the bear and dog lines separated into two distinct groups. The bear group began to walk on the soles of their feet. The dog group which includes wolves and foxes continued to walk on their toes.
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The bear appears in the name of many English pubs thought to be a hangover from the days of bear-baiting. A medieval entertainment which involved tying a bear to a post and setting dogs on it.
Spectacled bears are South America’s second largest land mammal. With their chunky body and short legs you wouldn’t guess some bears can run at speeds of 25 to 30 mph. Males weigh between 280-440 pounds. Their diet consists generally of fruits, roots, honey, insects and fish. Only four per cent of normal diet is protein.
In the tropics the bears do not hibernate since there is no true winter season. They are very timid and there has never been a report of a spectacled bear attacking a person in the wild. Spectacled bears can swim quite well and have been seen climbing cactus as high as 25 feet to get fruit.
The South American bear build platform structures high up in the trees by pulling down branches to form a large flat area strong enough to hold their weight. Bears are solitary animals but do leave messages for other bears. Rubbing their backs against tree trunks, leaving scratch marks is a warning sign for other male bears- who don’t have great eyesight but a keen sense of smell. Also it is a calling card for the females that he’s in the forest.
Spectacled bear meat is highly prized in Peru although it is reported to be dark, stringy and very tough. The bears are also slaughtered for their skin and fat. Their gall bladders are valued in oriental medicine. In Cantonese cuisine bear paws are considered a delicacy.
Humans have forever had a connection to the bear. The earliest known religions were those who believed the bear sacred. Evidence of ritual burials and reverence of bears has been seen in nearly every culture of the world.
In Native American folklore- Indians called the bear “keeper of dreams.” To show how much our forebearers thought of bears you only have to look up to the night sky. Ursa Major and Ursa Minor- star constellations that form- The Great Bear and the Little Bear.
Vikings wore bear skins into battle hoping to gain strength and stamina of the bear. Their frenzy as they rushed onto the field with violent screams and jerking their bodies about earned them the name- ‘berserkers’ from the English.
Stephen Fry, author of the Paddington Bear series of books, rescued a live spectacled bear in Peru. The bear was found in a small, Andean village where it had been living in a tiny cage for two years. It was the inspiration for his book about the spectacled bear and the beginning of the foundation, Bear Rescue.
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