Bear update and puma problems too

Camera trap video of a Spectacled Bear eating a bull carcass near El Placer, Ecuador, next to our Machay and Naturetrek Reserves.  The bear first sniffs the camera, then eats. Video set up by Juan Pablo Reyes and Santiago Recalde, EcoMinga.

It has been a while since we’ve posted here. Readers might imagine that this means there is not much news to report, but in fact the opposite is true. We have been so busy, with so much going on, that we have not had time to sit back and write about what we are doing. I have just returned from Taiwan to give a talk about the mathematics of biodiversity and to work on the textbook that Anne Chao and I are writing. I finally have a bit of time to sit and write, and that is what I will try to do for the next few days…

Before I write posts on some of the new things, I’ll finish the bear story that I had left hanging in my last posts (here and here).

As regular readers may recall, one or more Spectacled Bears near our Cerro Candelaria, Naturetrek, and Machay reserves had been eating the crops of the local people and apparently killing a few of their cattle. We brought in a bear expert, Andres Laguna, to talk to the local people and take appropriate action. A bull had just recently died (possibly killed by the bear) and this gave us the chance to film and trap the bear.

We succeeded in the filming the bear visiting the carcass during the day (above) and also at night (below).

Spectacled Bear at night munching on rotten bull meat near El Placer. Video set up by Juan Pablo Reyes and Santiago Recalde, EcoMinga.

This was our chance to trap the bear. Unfortunately Andres was not able to return to our area in time, in spite of our promises to the community. We don’t have enough experience to trap the bear ourselves, so in the end we missed the opportunity to do something about it. Fortunately we have not received any new reports of dead cattle, but bears are still eating our neighbors’ corn.

Now the same people who are losing their cattle and corn to bears are starting to lose their chickens to puma. Two puma have been spotted with some regularity in the area, and recently puma tracks were found very close to homes.


A puma caught by a camera trap in our reserve near El Placer. Credit: Karima Lopez.

Our conservation successes are negatively affecting the local people, and if this continues, they will certainly take matters into their own hands and kill the offending animals….I am not sure what the solutions are. One obvious thing we can do is pay compensation for confirmed losses. We are also trying to involve the community with the reserve, to make them proud of it and to find ways that they can benefit economically from it. Then they may be able to overlook the  lost corn and chickens, though cattle are so valuable that no one can accept losing them.

Lou Jost/EcoMinga Foundation





Spectacled Bear sightings Part 2

Yesterday I posted a Spectacled Bear video taken by one of our rangers near his home town of El Placer, close to our Naturetrek Reserve. Today I received more videos of the same sighting, taken from the village schoolhouse. All the kids got to see the bear! You can hear their excitement in the background.

And the video from yesterday, taken by the people who appear in the last few seconds of the above video:


These bears are damaging the people’s crops, but perhaps we can turn this problem into an advantage for the village. If the bears came often enough, it may be possible for the village to earn some money from tourism. Perhaps the village could actually plant crops for the bears. The challenge will be to find an equitable way to ensure that enough tourism money goes to the farmers who do that.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

Spectacled Bear successes and challenges

A few days ago one of our rangers  filmed this large male Spectacled Bear in cultivated fields near his village, close to our Naturetrek Reserve.

This year we have been thrilled to see a dramatic increase in Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) sightings around our Naturetrek, Cerro Candelaria, and Machay reserves, which together form the “Forests in the Sky” wildlife corridor between the Llanganates and Sangay national parks. We have been protecting these bears and their habitat for ten years now, and apparently we have been quite successful.

However, this brings new challenges as bears and people  begin to compete for the same food. As one example, bears love the corn that the local people grow, and they can systematically destroy a farmer’s crop, as we showed in this camera-trap video:

In the last few weeks we have heard reports of a more serious conflict, perhaps with the big male bear filmed in the video at the top of this post. The reports, which are not confirmed, blame bears for killing several calves. There was one well-known case of a rogue Spectacled Bear killing calves in northern Ecuador a few years ago, and I have seen a camera-trap photo of a Spectacled Bear attacking a grown Mountain Tapir, so this is not impossible, though it is very rare. Our rangers are investigating these reports. If they turn out to be true, we have a challenging problem on our hands. The owners of these calves are not big ranchers with hundreds of head; these are poor individuals with only a handful of cows at any one time.A calf is a very big deal for its owner, not something whose loss can be easily absorbed.

On the other hand, many reports elsewhere of cattle deaths due to bears have been based on circumstantial evidence and may have actually been cases of scavenging bears. For now, we can only gather the facts as carefully as possible. We hope that these latest reports will prove to be unfounded….I’ll write more when we know more facts.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

Frog fanciness


Pristimantis katoptroides in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Fausto Recalde/EcoMinga.

A recent trip to the Rio Zunac Reserve turned up some beautiful frogs in the genus Pristimantis. This is the largest genus of vertebrates, and its local diversity in our area is staggering. Most of them seem nondescript at first glance, but many of them have bright species-specific “flash colors” on their sides, bellies, or inner thighs. This lovely P. katoptroides photographed  by our forest guard Fausto Recalde is an example. Its inner thighs are an intense indigo blue:


Pristimantis katoptroides in our Rio Zunac Reserve showing blue flash pattern. Photo Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

Here is another Pristimantis found on an earlier trip to the forests adjacent to the reserve, which we are raising money to purchase. This one has dramatic yellow stripes on its inner thighs and sides . Juan Pablo says that this is almost certainly a new species!


Possible new species of Pristimantis in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

The eyes can also be very colorful, as in this Pristimantis eriphus found on the same trip as the P. katoptroides:


Pristimantis eriphus in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

This is probably the same species, from our Cerro Candelaria Reserve:


Pristimantis eriphus? [Edit 10 Dec 2016: Juan Pablo tells me that this is actually a new frog currently being described] in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo: Alejandro Arteaga/TropicalHerping

Here’s Pristimantis galdi from the Rio Zunac Reserve with green eyes:


Pristimantis galdi in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Javier Aznar/TropicalHerping.

Here’s a Pristimantis lacrimosus with copper eyes:


Pristimantis lacrimosus from our Rio Anzu Reserve. Photo: Alejandro Arteaga/TropicalHerping.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation.

High school students bring electricity to our scientific stations

My last post described the visit of a large group of Lawrenceville School students to our Cerro Candelaria Reserve to help Drs John Clark (who holds the Aldo Leopold Distinguished Teaching Chair there) and David Neill (professor at the Universidad Estatal Amazonica) do a careful tree biodiversity census of a reference plot they established in the forest. One of their other goals was to set up a solar energy system in the reserve, applying what they had learned about sustainable energy at their school. They brought down two “We Share Solar” kits for us (and one for a station run by the Universidad Estatal Amazonica), donated by the We Care Solar foundation through their Solar Education Program. They call these kits “solar suitcases”.

Student Megan Kucker wrote about her experience of Ecuador and the class gift of solar energy:

“…It is one thing to read about living in a developing country, but actually experiencing it is entirely different…Throughout the winter term of my Honors Environmental Science course, taught by the leader of the Ecuador trip, Dr. (John L.) Clark taught us about different energy sources and the impact each source has on the environment. Through a project set up by the We Share Solar Education Program, our class constructed portable solar units called We Share Solar Suitcases, which we took with us to Ecuador. To construct these units, we split into groups of four to wire parts, screw them together, and create a working circuit that could distribute electricity from a solar panel. Each unit includes a cell phone charger, a battery charger for AAA or AA batteries, and outlets for 12V DC devices. The systems we built include 80 watt solar panels and a 12-amp-hour lithium battery. The life span for these systems is about 25 years with battery changes every few years. By learning the benefits of solar energy during class – and then later having an opportunity to build the system – I was able to understand exactly how to keep our environment clean, while supplying energy and power.”

“Dr. Clark inspired me to be a part of the trip to Ecuador. During our classes leading up to the trip, he told students numerous stories – and showed us pictures – of his past explorations in Ecuador. I had a hard time sleeping during the nights leading up to the trip because I was so excited by what Dr. Clark had told us about Ecuador. I couldn’t wait to begin my journey.”

“Along with a lot of other gear for the expedition, we brought three portable solar systems that my class had constructed. We delivered the solar suitcases to three locations. The first solar suitcase was destined for the Zuñac Reserve. The second suitcase we carried and installed in Candelaria Reserve in the cabin where we stayed for most of our course. One of our guides (who I now consider a friend), Jesus Darwin, was overjoyed when he was able to charge his phone so he could take more pictures while we were in the jungle. As a side note, his full name is Jesus Darwin Recalde, but everyone calls him “Darwin” because his dad goes by “Jesus.” Our other guides were also pleased with the units because they could cook at night under lights and they had a source of electricity to charge their cameras and headlamps. [Note added by LJ: Also laptops! Scientific instruments! Remote video monitoring of the forest! Maybe internet and wildlife webcams to reveal this forest’s secrets and help guard it from poachers! It is a huge step forward for scientific and conservation work in this remote wilderness.] The third suitcase was delivered to Yankuam, a newly established reserve that will be directed by Dr. David Neil from the Universidad Estatal Amazónica.”

“Throughout the week at Candelaria Reserve, I was able to see the impact the solar suitcase that I helped construct had on everyone in the camp and our guides. Building the units during class in New Jersey was fun, but getting them into the hands of people who would ultimately use them on a daily basis filled me with pride. I loved being involved with a project that had a long-term impact.”

“Travelling to Ecuador this spring was probably the best experience of my life. Not only did I bond with amazing people from a different culture, but I had the unique opportunity to contribute to the ongoing energy needs in remote rainforests of Ecuador.”

Thank you John, and the Lawrenceville School students, and the We Care Solar foundation!!! You’ve transformed our humble stations into real science laboratories. You’ve also made our work much safer, since we can now stay in good communication with the world in case of emergency.

Lou Jost
EcoMinga Foundation