Ecuador is on the trail of some “giants” solitary bears that live in the exuberant Cordillera del Cóndor and about which there is very little information: the Andean bears (tremarctos ornatus), a species on the list of vulnerability categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Also known as “spectacled bears” Due to the clear markings that some individuals have around their eyes, these bears can measure up to two meters tall and weigh up to 130 kilos.
Eye-catching, charismatic, solitary, good swimmers and climbers, the bears have scientists on tenterhooks, who for several months have been trying to capture specimens from the Cordillera del Cóndor, bordering Peru, to place tracking collars on them.
With this they intend to collect information about their movements and ways of life, to expand conservation plans for this species. off the radar
Through a research project for the conservation of the Andean Bear in the Cordillera del Cóndor – which began in 2019 – experts want “to understand this population that was previously unknown, that was off the map, off the radar”Martín Bustamante, director of the Quito Zoo, told EFE.
Scientists want to know the level of bears’ relationship with other populations and the threats they face, among other topics.
At the moment they have found a “important” bear population: “We know that there are many bears, that they move around constantly, that they have males and females in adulthood, and that there are reproduction events because we see cubs”Bustamante explained.
The use of camera traps has allowed them to observe “which is an active population.” Bears and gold, a possible conjunction?
Experts from the Quito Zoo, the San Francisco de Quito University (USFQ) and the Canadian mining company Lundin Gold participate in the research to determine the genetic identity of the Andean bears of the Cordillera del Cóndor, in order to compare them with studies carried out to bears in western Quito or in Loja (south).
Juan Carlos Fonseca, a biologist who works at the Fruta del Norte underground gold mine, which Lundin Gold operates, told EFE in the Cordillera del Cóndor that they are trying to trap bears in the study area of the project, which is part of a conservation action for spectacled bears in Ecuador.
The idea is to place monitoring collars on them, and take blood and hair samples to carry out the genetic study, and thus help identify conservation strategies. So far they have seen 40 bears, but have not been able to catch any.
“Catching a bear is not that easy,” Fonseca remarked, ensuring that the bears are relatively close to the mining project and that the company’s responsibility “is to guarantee that their passage through the intervened areas is safe, that nothing happens to them, and, as far as possible, that the areas they surround are conserved in the best way so that they have sufficient habitat for life”.
The Bears “they seem to walk, somehow calm, regarding these levels of (mining) intervention.” “Bears are somewhat tolerant of human activity,” Bustamante stated. Fonseca noted that they are acting so that, once the work in the mine is finished, the area remains as it was environmentally.
Due to its genetic composition“each population has its own history” and each one “It is also a challenge for conservation, because we have to manage to maintain those lineages, that evolutionary history”Bustamante stressed.
But they still cannot understand the percentage differences in the genetic structure of the bears, which influences, among others, their habits and diet, especially in the Cordillera del Cóndor, which is in the middle of an Amazonian landscape.
“It is a strong eruption of mountains, it is a place where, for example, animal species reach higher than in other mountainous areas. The forests are different and on the plateaus there are areas that look like moors, at about 2,000 meters above sea level,” said.
All this causes the plant and animal communities to be different, with their own ecology, and the bear is “one of the key actors”for its ecological role in ecosystems.
The bear requires several hectares for its subsistence and in its passage through the forest, they are promoters of dynamism: they break branches and parts of the trees when they feed, which forces the vegetation to enter into its own regeneration dynamics.
And although, in general, they know “very little regarding the bears of the Cordillera del Cóndor,” Bustamante highlights that the sector’s “a healthy and diverse population”, that shares spaces with pumas, tapirs, mountain dogs, squirrels, coatis, etc.
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