Text: Santiago Molina
The Andean or spectacle bear is the only representative of the 8 species of the bears in the world that lives in South America. Is endemic to the tropical Andes, is the second biggest terrestrial mammal, and despite this, is one of the most elusive ones. In fact, few have been lucky enought to observe a wild Andean bear in its natural state.
In Ecuador, this specie is consideres endanger because its population has declined considerably in the last 30 years. It´s estimated that there are 20.000 bears in all South America, and around 2.000 individuals left in Ecuador. Those numbers were calculated time ago, a new and better analisis is necessary.
In the country, bears have been studied in the highlands or paramo, especially in the Eastern side of the Andes, like in the Cayambe-Coca National Park , Antisana Ecological Reserve, and in the Podocarpus National Park. Despite that in Ecuador, bears live on both sides of the Andean foothills and paramos, since 2008, when 9 bears, representing all life stages, were seen feeding on fruits of a wild avocado tree in the Maquipucuna Reserve, northwest of Quito. This feeding behaviour was very rare and was not recorded before in the country or the region.
That´s when, Santiago Molina, ecologist and associated researcher of the San Francisco University of Quito and the Zoological Foundation of Ecuador, began to study different things related to these bears. In 2010, He developed his master thesis on “Population dynamics and threats of the Andean Bear in the northwestof the metropolitan district of Quito”. During this study, the researcher recorded 24 bears and other wildlife, including puma, ocelot, red brocket deer, tayra, and other animals, all together living in the last remnants of cloud forests mix with a human dominated landscape.
The scientific information generated on the study was shared with the secretary of te environment of the Municipality of Quito, creating a deep interest on support research and conservation efforts to protect the bears. Since then, together with different academics institutions, private organizations, local governments´collaboration, different studies have been developed in the territorry in the last 7 years.
So far, more than 60 bears have been recorded through direct observations and camera traps, also five species of felines, three species of deer and other 15 species of medium size mammals. Research has been conducted to estimate size ans structure of the population, density, feeding and movement behaviour. genetics, Human-bear conflicts, etc. The studies have generated valueable scientific information that has served as a platform to declare the Andean Bear as emblematic mammal os the Metropolitan District of Quito, and the creation, through municipal resolution, of the ecological corridor for the Andean bear, covering an area of 65,000 hectares including territories of 5 rural parishes of the northwest of Quito.
In the same way, the studies had contributed sharing knowledge and resources to local communities. A team of local field technicians have been trained through years and hired developing special skills to perform the studies and collect information. The presence of bears is attracting local and international tourist benefiting the local economy.
However, we are experienced a moment of truth, now that local actors are concern about the protection of bears, it is necessary to create alternatives, so human activities related to agriculture abd ranching must be regulated specially in those areas were the activities converge with the habitat of bears and other mammals. This actions must be focus in reduce the loss of habitat and mitigate human bear conflicts. Bears are attracted to crops and cattle causing damages to peoples´economy. This conflicts in a lot of cases ends with the live of bears.
There is no doubt, that all the efforts from people that are behind the conservation of bears will try no matter what to try to developed a landscape were humans and wildlife leave in harmony benefiting each other.