Watch Rare Glimpses of the Real Paddington Bear

New data on the rare Andean bear may help save it from extinction.
Jan 16, 2015·
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

To save the Andean bear—a species made famous by the adventures of Paddington Bear, its fictional avatar—conservationists are putting a wealth of new information to work.

It’s taken a long time to understand Andean bears, the only bear species native to South America, because most live in a mysterious habitat: the cloud forests and high meadows of the Andes Mountains. But the latest “camera trapping” technologies are proving tough enough to catch glimpses of the bears in these rugged environments—such as in this video of an Andean bear using a tree trunk to give its back a good scratch.

These views have helped an international team of researchers from Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland come up with new estimates of the bear’s population. They have also identified the “strongholds” where study and conservation efforts will most effectively save the bear.

The Wildlife Conservation Society and other nonprofits recently published the new information in a report.

The species “is the enigmatic flagship for the atmospheric fairy tale cloud forests and adjacent Andean meadows of the Tropical Andes,” they wrote. “However, habitat loss and human-animal conflict issues threaten the Andean bear across much of its continental range.”

A narrow curve of the Andes in Bolivia and Peru contains about 70 percent of the bear’s habitat (with the rest in Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador). The researchers have suggested seven geographic areas as high-priority zones for bear conservation: three in Peru, three in Bolivia, and one bridging the border. These areas add up to almost 58 percent of the bears’ habitat in Peru and Bolivia, containing anywhere from 10,500 to 42,000 Andean bears.

Continued camera trapping to catch more bears on video will help to better estimate their population density and total numbers.

About 20 percent of the land in these areas is formally protected, but to an extent those boundaries exist only on paper. Poaching has been steadily cutting the bear’s numbers for years, and the species is also threatened by habitat destruction due to mining, oil extraction, agriculture, and road building.

The researchers also identified six spots in Peru and Bolivia where Andean bears have been wiped out.

According to International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the bear’s habitat is disappearing at a rate of 2 to 4 percent a year. Unless the situation changes, its numbers could drop by 30 percent or more by 2050.

As Paddington said, “There aren’t many of us left where I come from.”