Bears Go Bald at Zoo; Experts Stumped

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December 7, 2009—A spectacled bear named Dolores (pictured) is sporting an unconventional look after losing almost all her hair.

Since 2007 the female spectacled bear and two of her female kin at Germany's Zoo Leipzig have been going bald—baffling experts.

Zoo experts are working to cure the bears' non-life-threatening condition, zoo curator Gerd Noeltzhold told the BBC.

Spectacled bears—also called Andean bears—live in the mountains of South America and are the continent's only bear species.

Armando Castellano, leader of the Andean Bear Conservation Project in Ecuador, said that he'd seen a similar case about a decade ago in a rescued spectacled bear.

"We were very scared, because it was the first time we had seen this," Castellano said.

Keepers in Ecuador put that bear, which had previously been fed human food—including Coca-Cola—on its natural diet of fruits and bamboo, and added enrichment items, such as toys and exotic foods, into the bear's enclosure. Four months later the fur grew back.

Similar cases have occurred in a Bolivian zoo and in Peru, Ximena Velez-Liendo, a spectacled bear specialist, said by email.

(Related: "Polar Bear Triplets Born in Zoo—A First?")

It's unknown whether a lack of nutrition is the culprit in the Leipzig bears' situation.

Until a cure is found, keepers have been applying medical ointment to the bears' skin, which becomes itchy without its protective fur.

—Rachel Kaufman

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