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.

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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

Landscape-level conservation becomes a reality for EcoMinga


We’ve recenty signed the papers and made the down payment for a key six-hundred-hectare property that protects virtually the entire watershed of the Rio Machay, from the high peak of Cerro Mayordomo (3400m) in the Llanganates National Park down almost to the Rio Pastaza. This property adjoins the other large purchases (about 1000 ha) we made a few months ago (see this post) on the same mountain. We’ll call this the Rio Machay Reserve. This enormous block of forest, twice as large as our Rio Zunac Reserve, connects to our Naturetrek Reserve on the south side of the Rio Pastaza, which in turn connects to our largest reserve, Cerro Candelaria, which stretches south to the border of Sangay National Park.

We had been working since our inception ten years ago to complete this connection between the two major national parks, Llanganates and Sangay. This wildlife corridor was first proposed by the the World Wildlife Fund and the now-defunct Fundacion Natura many years ago to allow wildlife to pass between the national parks. Corridors from low to high elevations, such as this one, also help bird species which move to different elevations at different times of year, such as some tropical hummingbirds and some fruit-eating birds. Corridors across elevation gradients also provide some insurance against climate change; as the climate warms, species can move up the mountains to keep pace with the changes. All these things require unfragmented, continuous stretches of forest across a wide range of elevations.

The high alpine paramo boundary between our Cerro Candelaria Reserve and Sangay National Park. Photo: Recalde brothers/EcoMinga.

The high alpine paramo boundary between our Cerro Candelaria Reserve and Sangay National Park. Photo: Recalde brothers/EcoMinga.

This proposed corridor was incorporated into the strategic plan of the local municipal governments (Banos, Mera, Palora) in 2002, even before we existed as a foundation (though we played a role in this process as private individuals back then). Unfortunately the declaration existed only on paper, and there were no new regulations on land use. Initially I tried to get Fundacion Natura and the local municipal governments to buy and to make the corridor a reality, but they argued that they did not have the funds. This is one of the reasons we formed EcoMinga; it seemed that we would have to do it ourselves rather than get other entities to do it. So in 2006 we began to make it real with actual land purchases, financed by the World Land Trust. There are still some bottlenecks and small gaps, but we have now finished the hard part, the uncertain part, the part that required a small miracle to complete. That miracle was the World Land Trust’s choice of EcoMinga as the beneficiary of their annual October Big Match fund drive, and the generous support that this fund drive received. Thanks to WLT and to the many donors who helped make this corridor a reality, including Sam Crothers, Mark Wilson, Dan Thompson, Julie Wassermann, Paul and Katy and Al Jost, and Richard and Katie Brindle. Most of the donors made donations directly to WLT so we cannot thank them by name, but they have made a huge and very positive impact on the landscape here.

Teagueia alyssana, which I discovered on Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost

Teagueia alyssana, which I discovered on Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost

The addition of Cerro Mayordomo to our reserve system is exciting. The peak has inspired oral legends of enchanted lakes with ducks made of gold, and angry spirits that keep humans out by sending frightening thunderstorms when someone tries to enter. But the reality is even more fantastic than the legends. The highest forest of this mountain is the place where I first discovered the spectacular Teagueia orchid radiation that I described in last year’s Darwin Day post. The many Teagueia species on this mountain are completely different from the sixteen species of Teagueia at the other end of this new corridor, on Cerro Candelaria, even though Cerro Candelaria and Cerro Mayordomo have seemingly-identical climates and are only 13 km apart. No one knows why they are different.

The view from near the top of Cerro Mayordomo, looking southwest towards Volcan Tungurahua, the snow-capped peak on the left, and Chimborazo, the snow-capped peak on the right. Chimborazo is the highest point on earth, higher than Everest in terms of distance from the earth's center. Photo: Lou Jost.

The view from near the top of Cerro Mayordomo, looking southwest towards Volcan Tungurahua, the snow-capped peak on the left, and Chimborazo, the snow-capped peak on the right. Chimborazo is the highest point on earth, higher than Everest in terms of distance from the earth’s center. Photo:Lou Jost.

For this latest purchase, the World Land Trust went out on a limb for us. WLT still has to raise the money to make the final payment for this purchase in January 2017. Please help them if you can!

Lou Jost