December 8, 2023


Paddington’s bespectacled bears do exist

In a previously unexplored area in the Peruvian Andes, biologists for the first time discovered a specular bear with golden fur. This extremely rare specimen is very similar to the children’s book “Paddington”, which, according to the story, is also said to have come from Peru. The balance of the remaining dark brown spectacled bears is also positive: At least in this remote area, their population is larger than expected, the team found.

The spectator bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is the only native species of bear in South America and is the only surviving representative of the short-snouted bear. Like many other bears, spectacled bears are carnivores and live mostly as solitary animals. Because they are very shy and rare, not much is known about their behavior. “Because the animals are so scarce, they are difficult to research, and therefore little is known about their behaviour,” explains Wilhelm Ostermann of the University of Gothenburg.

Rare and very shy

In addition, shady bears have lost large parts of their former habitat. Fleeing from humans and their encroachment on the South American landscape, the bears retreated to the heights of the Andes. There they play an important role in the ecosystem and are therefore known as umbrella species: if the sighted bear is protected, this will have positive consequences for many other animal and plant species. But the number of pop-up bears decreased sharply. It is estimated that there are only about 25,000 animals left. So the Red List classifies them as being at high risk.

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Ostermann and his colleagues were very pleased when they discovered a previously unexplored area during a research trip to northern Peru, where there were supposed to be many popping bears. “It immediately piqued our interest because until now only a few people have had the opportunity to observe animals in the wild,” says Julia Ostermann of the University of Halle-Wittenberg. In cooperation with the local population, the researchers developed a plan to monitor the animals in the Kopal region. During many explorations, the team has already been able to see the animals – up to four animals per day

Bear with “golden” fur

Scientists made a surprising discovery: for the first time they noticed a specular bear with almost golden fur. Animals usually only have dark black fur. “Seeing a real golden bear was something special,” says co-author Fanny Cornego of Stony Brook University. The newly discovered “golden bear” in light-colored fur is strikingly similar to the character of the children’s book “Paddington Bear” by British author Michael Bond. According to this story, the Paddington is also an amazing bear with golden fur and comes from Peru. However, researchers cannot explain why the bear fur now observed in Peru was golden, not black. Further investigations will be necessary for this purpose.

In the course of their observational study, the researchers also assessed the numbers of bears in their study area. For this purpose, each newly seen animal was photographed and its behavior recorded. Using the facial patterns specific to each animal, Ostermann and his team were able to distinguish and count individual bears. Their data shows that there are more than ten animals per 100 square kilometers in this remote andean region. The density of the zonal bears there is about twice what was previously assumed. Accordingly, the population of this rare and threatened species in northern Peru may be greater than feared.

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However, there is still no reason to give everything clear, as the researchers assert: the calculations are supposed to be based on a local hotspot, and therefore cannot simply be transferred to the whole of South America. At least it now seems clear that the area examined plays a particularly important role for bear viewers. This could allow for more targeted preventive measures. “Of course it would be ideal to put large areas under protection, but this is not always realistic. Smaller protective areas are easier to communicate with the population and can also be of great benefit,” says Wilhelm Ostermann.

Source: Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. Art article: Ursus, doi: 10.2192/URSUS-D-20-00005.3