The Only Bear in South America

The spectacled bear is a household sight across the world, though most people don’t realize they have one in their child’s bedroom. From darkest, deepest Peru comes the spectacled bear, and so did beloved children’s character Paddington Bear, with his light muzzle and eyes. Unlike Paddington, the actual spectacled bear is a shy and reclusive animal, preferring to live a solitary existence. They keep a mostly vegetarian diet  but like berries over marmalade. Habitat loss and poachers have put the spectacled bear population in danger, with an estimated number of less than 10,000 remaining. Little is known about their life out in the wild. Luckily for the spectacled bear, there are researchers who want to make them as popular as their fictional counterpart. 

Robyn Appleton is founder and research director for the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society - Peru (SBC). After attending her first International Conference for the Association for Bear Research and Management ten years ago, she noted that there was a real need for research on the spectacled bear, designated as vulnerable by the IUCN.  Little was known about this bear’s natural history because global research efforts are on giant pandas, polar bears, black bears and grizzly bears. In 2006 in northern Peru, Robyn connected with ex-hunter and now conservationist Javier Vallejos, and together they spent the next eight months in various field locations searching for spectacled bears. Their determination paid off as they discovered a population of bears at low elevations.  Since then, she and her team have conducted the first observation study on wild spectacled bears, discovered the first active maternal den site, and fitted the first wild Peruvian spectacled bear with a GPS collar. Robyn has presented her findings around the world. She plans to continue her research in the dry forests of northern Peru, raising awareness of spectacled bears and bringing global attention to their plight and the future challenges facing their dry forest habitat and ecosystem.​

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-Text by Elizabeth Rogers