I must’ve had a deprived childhood – I never read the Paddington Bear books and I didn’t even know Paddington came from ‘deepest, darkest Peru’ until a few years ago. However, when I finally met Paddington in real life, at the Chaparri Nature Reserve in northern Peru, he wasn’t wearing a red hat or a blue duffel coat or spectacles. He was, though, the cutest creature, perhaps even more cute than Paddington.
These particular Spectacled Bears (Tremarctos ornatus) are wildlife rescues. Twenty-five-year-old Papa Bear came from a circus where he had been so badly mistreated that he cannot be rehabilitated into the wilds of the reserve. He lives with Mama Bear and Baby Bear, who will be released into the reserve to fend for himself as soon as he’s able. Wild bears live in the hills behind the area where the tourist trails and accommodation are located, so visitors rarely see them, except in September, when one particular tree flowers and fruits, drawing the bears down from the hills to enjoy these treats.
Spectacled Bears are so-named because many have lighter-coloured circular markings around their eyes, and every face marking is different so individuals are easily identifiable. The bears live to about 30 years or age and are mostly vegetarian – they really liked the sweet potatoes our guide was feeding them.