Are There Bears In Colombia?

credit: Peter Parker

Colombia is not a stranger to natural beauty and unique ecosystems. It’s a topographical powerhouse that boasts tropical, desert, and mountainous climates – each with an amazing set of wildlife. Are bears among this enticing collective of natural wildlife? Let’s find it!

The Andean bear, or spectacled bear, is the only bear in Colombia. They are a protected species that inhabit Chingaza National Natural Park, Las Orquídeas National Natural Park,  El Verjón, and Municipality Of Íquira. They are primarily herbivorous, live in various habitats, and eat and sleep in trees.

Are There Bears In Colombia?

Andean bears are the only bears that inhabit the Colombian Andean mountains. These majestic creatures also go by the name spectacled bears because they have distinctive beige rings on their face that look like spectacles.  

Their inherent herbivorous preferences have them feeding on fruits, seeds, and plants. Spectacled bears are particularly fond of bromeliads, which are vibrant plants in the same category as pineapples and grow on rocks and trees.

Bromeliads are abundant in the cloud forests of Colombia, which are high-altitude forests often covered by mist or clouds.

Andean bears contribute to the cloud forest’s ecosystem by dispersing seeds and maintaining plant diversity. Areas of the woods with good plant diversity are healthy and allow bears to thrive, while poor diversity indicates a problem with the area.

Andean bears’ ability to adapt to the cold and thin air of the high mountains gives them a high tolerance to varying temperatures and precipitation. It’s made them the most arboreal bear species, and they often build platforms and nests in trees for eating and sleeping.

They inhabit the cloud forest, mossy elfin forests, dry & thorny forests, and rainforests. It’s also possible to spot them in grasslands adjacent to woodlands. Ideally, they flourish more in wet forests because the food variety is much larger and best suited for bears.

Spectacled bears tend to live at altitudes of around 6 000 – 8000 ft (1892 – 2682 m) above sea level, but there are exceptions. The highest recorded altitude for an Andean bear was 13 123 ft (4 000 m).

How Big Are Andean Bears?

The size of Andean bears can vary immensely between males and females.

Male bears are much larger and heavier than females. They are usually 59 – 78.5 in (150 – 200 cm) long, not counting the tail. The tail is short, only about 2.8 in (7 cm).

They can stand up to 35.5 in (90 cm) at the shoulder and weigh 220 – 440 lb (100 – 200 kg). Those in captivity can become even heavier, which was the case with one male that weighed 491 lb (222.5 kg), although zoologists claimed he was obese.

Female Andean bears are much smaller and lighter than males. They are usually 47 – 71 in (120 – 180 cm) long, not counting the tail. They also have a short tail, measuring about 2.8 in (7 cm).

They can stand up to 23.5 in (60 cm) tall at the shoulder and weigh 77 – 181 lb (35 – 82 kg).

When it comes to Andean bear cubs, they are among the cutest and most playful animals alive! They enjoy playing with their mom and each other, often chasing, biting, and wrestling.

Andean bear cubs are tiny and helpless when they are born. They weigh only about 10.5 – 11.6 oz (300 – 330 g) and are blind and deaf. Their eyes open when they are about one month old, and their ears open when they are about six weeks old.

Mother bear feeds them plants, seeds, and fruits, with the occasional rodent, insect, and bird.

Are There Black Or Grizzly Bears In Colombia?

There are no black or grizzly bears that live in Colombia. Grizzly bears exist as a subspecies of brown bears that inhabit North America’s northern and western parts.

Black bears also live in North America but cover a broader distribution. They inhabit multiple regions, from Canada all the way to Mexico.

Where Are Andean Bears In Colombia?

While it is undoubtedly foolhardy to go looking for a bear, the curious nature lover will enjoy catching a glimpse of them in their natural habitat. Let’s look at some of the best places to spot Andean bears.

Chingaza National Natural Park

The national 76 600-hectare park is about 31 mi (50 km) from Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia. It’s home to plenty of Andean bears and offers a great chance to see them in their natural setting. Territorial scratch marks, tracks on the ground, and feeding troughs announce their presence.

Las Orquídeas National Natural Park

This park sits in the department of Antioquia, on the western side of the Andes Mountains. It’s a wildly impressive landscape covering 32 000 hectares of protected wildlife, including the Andean bear.

The area that encompasses the park plays an essential role in sustaining the bears. It’s an excellent food source and offers ample opportunities for reliable habitat. It’s possible to spot Andean bears in the park’s buffer zone – the spot where protective measures are the most concentrated.

El Verjón, Near Bogotá

El Verjón is a rural area about 12 mi (20 km) from Bogotá in the Eastern Andes. It forms part of the Sumapaz Páramo Complex – the most expansive páramo worldwide.

It’s a popular destination for nature enthusiasts like birdwatchers due to its impressive wildlife diversity. Andean bears inhabit the páramo (treeless plataeu) and cloud froest of El Verjón.

Municipality Of Íquira

Íquira occupies the center of the Andes in the department of Huila. It boasts a rich history of cultural heritage and coffee production.

It has a reputation for being a hotspot for Andean bears, with most of them inhabiting the surrounding mountainous areas. They sometimes make their way down the mountain to the farms, which form part of a biological corridor for them.

Biological corridors are unique habitats that allow Andean bears to connect with other habitats. These corridors are necessary because human activities like structural development, logging, and roads can isolate certain wildlife and make survival difficult.

As a result, these corridors allow Andean bears to find food, mates, and shelter.

Are Andean Bears In Colombia Protected?

The Andean bear faces many threats that bring them closer to extinction. The primary perils come from poachers who collect them for trophies, pet trade, products, and medicine. Conflict with farmers is also common. Habitat loss comes from development activities like logging and building roads. 

Their gallbladders are a highly-valued component for traditional Chinese medicine and fetches a hefty price on the international market.

People suspect Andean bears of attacking cattle and raiding crops, and retaliate to prevent any more damage. Conservationists argue that the problem’s source lies in their habitat loss due to logging activities, which diminishes their food and other resources.

These tree-dependent bears have lost most of their habitat due to farming and logging activities. As a result, it causes more friction with farmers as the bears look for food.

Numerous conservationist organizations recognize the issue for both parties and work with governments to find a solution. They include:

  • The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
  • The Cleveland Zoological Society (CZS)
  • The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES)
  • The Andean Bear Foundation (ABF)
  • The Andean Bear Project (ABP)
  • The Andean Bear Conservation Project (ABCP)