Photos capture images of elusive Andean bear

bear_camera_trapA camera trap picture of the Andean bear, Tremarctos ornatus

Cuenca, Ecuador (March 2009) – The Andean bear lives amid the misty treetops of the Tropical Andes. It is South America's only bear species and can be recognized by its characteristic white "spectacles". Atop arboreal tree platforms, the 300 to 600 pound bears subsist primarily on bromeliads, orchids and fruiting plants of the tropical montane cloud forest. To catch a glimpse of this hidden giant is rare.

Andean bears once roamed from Bolivia through Colombia, but today habitat destruction and increasing human/wildlife conflicts threaten the survival of this species. Currently only eight protected areas in South America are considered to contain sufficient high quality bear habitat (> 1900 km2) to sustain viable populations. Sangay National Park, covering 517,765 hectares, in southern Ecuador is one of the largest of these protected areas containing a significant bear population. Nevertheless, the park's limited budget has hindered abilities to protect this species. In Ecuador the bear is listed as endangered.  

Investigating bear habitat requirements

puma A puma as captured by a camera trap

Becky Zug, candidate for a Master's of Science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is investigating how bears use páramo and montane forest habitats on privately-owned land.  For 5 months, she monitored 17 remote-sensored cameras that were placed in a 5,000 hectare area in the Mazar watershed within southern Sangay National Park. Camera traps have only recently been used to study Andean bears. The cameras captured bears, pumas, white-tailed deer, red brocket deer, and margays. A second field season will seek to identify individual resident and transient bears by Taylor Jones also based at the Carnivore Coexistence Lab. This work has been largely funded by the Land Tenure Center through a grant from USAID and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Understanding human-wildlife conflicts  

Lucas Achig, candidate for a Master's of Science at the National University of Costa Rica, and biologist Vinicio Santillán recently completed a 6-month study of bear/cattle conflicts in the Cooperative of Colepato. Following interviews with over 50% of the households, Lucas and Vinicio found that local residents had identified two types of bears, "el huagrero" and "el huicundero", distinguishing the larger male bears from the smaller female ones. Visits to the sites of the attacks coupled with in-depth personal interviews identified preliminary measures to lessen cattle/bear conflicts and hopefully prevent future acts of retaliation.

Protecting remaining habitat

FCT is incorporating the results of this robust natural and social science toward a pilot conservation program on private lands. The program targets areas of important bear habitat for immediate conservation.  

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