SouthWild is particularly enthusiastic about bears, any bears anywhere. Given our fanaticism about bears and our extreme specialization on South American wildlife, it is only fitting that we are the only agency in the world to guarantee Spectacled Bears, the normally-invisible denizens of remote cloud forests of the tropical Andes.
How can we ensure viewing of such a shy, endangered, charismatic mammal? We cracked the code on how to be in the right place at the right time. Now it is possible to show you Spectacled Bears climbing 14-18 meters up in wild trees of the avocado family to break and drop to the ground arm-thick, 3-meter-long branches laden with their favorite food, which are tiny, wild avocados. They then descend to the ground and eat every single fruit. They repeat this whole procedure over and over again for 5-6 weeks each year until all the fruits are gone from protected, natural stands of their favorite food trees.
In 2019 and 2021, SouthWild’s top brass and our lead videographer thoroughly explored the spectacular Spectacled Bear rain forest in a 15,000-acre, private cloud forest reserve 2:15 h from Quito, Ecuador. We timed our visits to coincide with the ripening of the bears’s favorite wild fruits, which are several species in the avocado family. On more than 95% of our days there, we enjoyed hours watching bear skillfully climbing around and eating fruits in the tops of these wild avocado trees.
For 35 years, the visionary environmentalists who created and still manage this reserve have protected these bears from all hunting, so these acrobatic bruins are confident to perform their spectacular arboreal aerobatics in the presence of groups of 2-20 visitors.
The complicated part of the miracle of guaranteed Spectacled Bears is that they only become highly-visible during the fruiting season, and the fruiting of their favorite species of tree can occur at any time between September and December and only lasts for 6-8 weeks. Thus, guests who wish to see these bears should put their names on our Spectacled Bear list, and we will notify you 2-3 months before the fruits ripen and give you weekly updates to allow precise timing of your travel.
Most guests probably do not have the flexibility to plan a bear trip to Ecuador with only 2-3 months of warning, but we have a solution: on every day of the year in another part of the Ecuadorian highlands, we can offer you a 30-50% probability per day of seeing this bear, but at a distance of 80-250 meters, with the bears walking and foraging in humid, high elevation grasslands. Obviously, we prefer hours of viewing from only 20-40 meters, particularly of bears climbing trees and breaking and dropping fruit-laden branches, but if you already are scheduled to go to the Galapagos, it is worth adding three days before to go find these attractive bears.
The most serious wildlife fanatics can wait for the news of the advent of an excellent fruiting season and then book their trips to see the bears up close. Of course, the cloud forests and elfin forests that harbor the bears also offer a number of rare and colorful birds, including Andean Cocks-of-the Rock, toucans, tanagers, hummingbirds, and other species, but in terms of rarity and charisma, the bears eclipse all the other fauna. A rustic-yet-comfortable nature lodge on the private bear reserve allows easy access to the conservation group’s bear-rich forest, but one needs to be a pretty good walker to reach the best bear sightings. Specifically, the best bear sightings tend to be 1,200 to 3,500 m from the lodge, normally at only 20-50 m from the main trail leading out from the lodge. Although this trail is not very steep, it nevertheless is consistently uphill as you walk farther from the lodge, with a vertical rise of 100 metres or so for every 1,400 m of trail. It is not necessary to walk fast to get to the sightings, as the bears take a long time to finish working the tops of a few trees, but still, 100 metres of rise per 1,400 m of trail requires pretty good leg condition and at least 2-3 weeks of pre-trip practice walking slowly up 200-metre-high hills.