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Bizarre baldness strikes female spectacled bears in Leipzig zoo

November 3, 2009 |  7:57 pm

Spectacled bear

It's a tough time to be a spectacled bear at the zoo in Leipzig, Germany -- at least, it's a tough time to be a female spectacled bear.  Veterinarians are struggling to determine why the zoo's female spectacled bears have suddenly lost nearly all their fur, which is typically shaggy for both females and males of their species.  There has been speculation that a genetic defect could be responsible, but beyond the obvious hair loss and its accompanying itchiness, no other symptoms have been noted in the affected bears.

The U.K.'s Daily Mail reports that zoogoers have turned out in droves to see the bizarre, as-yet-unexplained sight of the balding bears.  Dolores, above, and Lolita, another female, have retained tufts of fur around their faces and chests.  Meanwhile, according to the Sun, keepers have contacted a number of other zoos worldwide to ask for advice on the bizarre malady.

Spectacled bears are native to South America and are sometimes called Andean bears, after the mountain range they occupy.  They are South America's only native bear, and they're typically distinguishable (though you wouldn't know it from the photo of poor Dolores here) by eyeglass-shaped markings on their faces. 

Spectacled2 Due in part to the species' shyness, it's difficult to get an accurate population count, but estimates range from as low as 2,400 to as many as 20,000 left in the wild.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as vulnerable to extinction, largely because of human encroachment into their once-remote habitat. 

"Thirty percent of its habitat has been lost since the 1990s," Russell Van Horn, an applied animal ecologist with the San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.  "Three [percent] to 6 percent more habitat is lost each year."

Here's hoping Leipzig's spectacled bears are sporting their fur coats again soon!

-- Lindsay Barnett

Top photo: Dolores stands in her enclosure at the zoo in Leipzig.  Credit: Jan Woitas / European Pressphoto Agency

Bottom photo: A healthy spectacled bear at the Los Angeles Zoo in 2000.  Credit: Tad Motoyama / Los Angeles Zoo

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