Communicating Science and Natural History
"Shadows of the Forest"
Natural World, BBC 2, Tuesday 6th May, 2008
"Paddington Bear goes from Marmalade to Meat "
The Times Newspaper. Saturday 3rd May, 2008
Author:- Adam Sherwin
The Andean (Spectacled) Bear (Tremarctos ornatus)
"Has Paddington Bear had us all fooled with his love of marmalade? The diet
of the spectacled bears of Peru … is no longer vegetarian" (Times
So begins this article about the Andean (or Spectacled) Bear published in the Times
on Saturday 3rd May 2008, in advance of the BBC2 Natural World screening of the
Stephen Fry narrated documentary "Shadows of the Forest" the following Tuesday.
The programme coincides with the 50th Anniversary of the first Paddington Bear
Novel written by Michael Bond in 1958, and the latest release "Paddington - Here
and Now" is released on June 2nd, the first full length story written by the author for
almost 30 years.
That Paddington is described as a bear from “Deepest, Darkest Peru” means he can
only be an Andean bear, if we assume that Michael Bond meant for him to be a real
species. The Guardian rightly establishes this in its article, before highlighting (all be
it rather emotionally) the divergence between the fictional, cuddly Paddington and the
alleged real world bear that the BBC programme endeavours to establish.
"The spectacled bear, so called because of the markings on its face, is the
only surviving bear in South America. So Paddington was one, being from darkest
Peru. Now there aren't many of these elusive creatures left. They mooch about in the
forests, climbing trees in search of marmalade. And when they venture up on to the
high Andean plains, they put on duffel coats and Wellington boots.
What's this, though? It seems they may not eat marmalade sandwiches at all, but
dead cows instead! Here's one, turning over a rotting carcass in the river, and
gorging on the dead animal's belly. Eurgh. And it gets worse - it seems the lovely
spectacled bear, which was always thought to be a docile vegetarian (by naturalists
as well as children), doesn't just eat the cows, it kills them too. It jumps on their
backs, then clumsily rips the skin from the poor animals' shoulders before dragging
them off for a slow and horrible death. And it's not just cows they eat, but tapirs, too -
funny snuffly things. Murderers. There goes another dream, well and truly shattered.
Actually, I think the programme's whole Paddington connection is being slightly
overdone. Michael Bond, his creator, originally had his bear coming from Africa, until
his editor pointed out there weren't any bears in Africa, so it was changed to Peru.
But I don't think Paddington was especially modelled on spectacled bears - he didn't
have the facial marking for a start, and he certainly didn't rip cows to shreds. Still, it
seems to be amusing Stephen Fry, who's doing the commentary, and who seems to
think he is narrating Paddington. Either that or he thinks that everyone who watches
Natural World is seven years old". (Guardian Newspaper, 2008)
Related or not, as a result there has been heightened interest in the plight of the
Andean Bear this year.
However, as the BBC website reveals:-
"Little is known about the habits of this elusive creature (and) many of our
assumptions were wrong. For years they were thought to be gentle vegetarians, but
the latest studies reveal a new and alarming side to this endangered bear". (BBC
Coincidentally, and somewhat ironically, the diet of this endangered bear is being
reappraised just a few months after last years "Marmite" advertising campaign by
food giant Unilever. In the advert Paddington Bear appears to supplement his normal
herbivorous diet of marmalade sandwiches, for which he his best remembered, with
an alternative delicacy! (Unilever, 2007)
Stephen Fry has himself made something of a conservation name for himself in
recent years, having taken a particular interest in this species. As Amazon the
bookstore says of his previous conservation book "Rescuing the Spectacled Bear"
"On New Years Day BBC 1 broadcast a programme about Stephen Fry going
to Peru to track Paddington Bear’s roots and more seriously to rescue a spectacled
bear, one of the world’s endangered species. At Easter a follow up programme was
shown on BBC 2, they went back, and helped rescue a mate for the young bear they
had found on their first trip." (Amazon, 2008)
A combination of natural habitat destruction and human encroachment has pushed
the bear onto the IUCN's endangered list, the last remaining representatives of the
short-faced bears, the other species having been driven to extinction many
thousands of years ago. (IUCN 2007).
But conservation work is still being funded and the programme highlighted the
different strategies in both Peru and Ecuador. Rob Williams, working in Peru, is
sceptical of the claim’s made in Ecuador that the bears are killing cattle, principally
because the cattle are much bigger than the bears themselves and it is rare for
carnivores who hunt alone, as these bears do, to kill animals much bigger than
However, the Andean Bear Conservation Project in Ecuador has eyewitness
accounts of these killings, some evidence of which are shown on “Shadows of the
Dark”. Isaac Goldstein of the Andean Bear Conservation Society, qualifies this in his
paper “Andean bear / livestock conflicts”
“ Information was gathered from the current known geographic range of the species
(Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia). Andean bears are perceived as
livestock predators where herding is common; bears are frequently blamed for any
livestock disappearance or death. This negative perception often leads to the
poaching of Andean bears by local residents and to a disregard of protected areas
and conservation efforts. We found no systematic documentation of conflicts in any
Andean country. Carcass dragging, feeding signs, and presence of tree and ground
nests were common features of livestock depredation sites. Direct observation of
cattle depredation by Andean bears was reported at 3 sites in Colombia and
Ecuador. No seasonal or cyclic patterns of depredation were discerned, and
evidence suggested that bear-livestock conflicts were restricted to particular sites
and involved problem bears. The conservation of Andean bears requires research on
rapid ways of dealing with problem bears, as well as mitigation techniques designed
to reduce perceived and actual conflicts between bears and livestock. (Goldstein
There are several possible explanations for the carnivorous assertions about the
Andean bear and the truth may be a combination of the following :-
1) That it has always been a carnivore and that, because so little was known about
them, only the more common omnivorous characteristics have been witnessed and
verified. This is hinted at in the BBC documentary.
2) Because the bear’s numbers are scattered throughout several countries of South
America, including Peru and Ecuador, both of which were featured in the BBC2
programme, they may have different behavioural patterns in different areas. In the
programme this point is clearly made by Rob Williams of Frankfurt University who
studies the bears in Peru.
3) In some areas the bears are only now becoming carnivorous because of the
proximity of farm animals, including cattle that were allegedly killed by the bear in
Ecuador, as detailed by Isaac Goldstein.
4) That the reports of cattle killings may be due to other wild animals, such as puma,
but that the blame is being put on spectacled bears because of the bad reputation
they, and bears in general traditionally have, within Latin communities.This point is
discounted in the programme on the grounds that the method of killing is not typical
A similar case of “bad press” happened to the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger
(Thylacinus cynocephalus), in the 1800’s and early 1900’s when they were destroyed
in large numbers because of the perceived threat they posed to sheep reared by
immigrant farmers. Channel 4’s book “Extinct” researched this in some depth and
came to the startling conclusion that the Tasmanian Tiger was used as a scapegoat
for political gain, bad farming practices and that most of the killing of sheep was done
by domestic dogs gone wild. Protection for this marsupial came too late and the last
known Tasmanian Tiger died in captivity in 1936. (Channel 4, 2001)
Addressing this problem, with help from UK charities including the South Lakes Wild
Animal Park in Cumbria, will help allow the local human population to become the
most ardent supporters of their own conservation issues. By establishing bear
population densities and their location, resources can be directed towards protecting
rather than persecuting.
In conclusion, then, the urgency is in proving that Andean bears do not normally
attack cattle, and that perhaps only a handful of “rogue” bears are responsible for
what appears to be a rare occurrence of them hunting cattle, probably initiated by the
encroachment of humans into their habitat. This fact is mentioned on the TV
programme, but barely mentioned at all in any newspaper articles.
Alternatively, the natural history books will need to be re-written and, by a process of
eduaction and awareness, we learn to accept and respect them as they are.
“Please look after this bear. Thankyou”
Goldstein, I. (2006) Andean bear / livestock conflicts.
Kattan, G et al. (2004) Range fragmentation in the spectacled bear Tremarctos ornatus in the
Natural World. (2008) Shadows of the Forest. BBC
Sherwin, A. (2008) Paddington Bear goes from Marmalade to Meat. The Times Newspaper.
Wolaston, S. (2008) Last night's TV The Guardian Newspaper
Fry, S. (2002) Rescuing Spectacled Bears.
West, A.. Gill, A. (2001) Extinct, Channel 4 Books
Bond, M. (1958-2008) Paddington Bear
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
Andean Bear Conservation Project
Wildlife Animal Park