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

 

 

 

 

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

First piece of the “Forests in the Sky” is now protected!!!!!!!!!!

This week's "Forests in the Sky" purchases.  Los Llanganates National Park is outlined in green. Our purchase of the yellow property clears out a potentially-problematic inholding in the high peaks of the park and almost reaches down to the low valley of the Rio Pastaza (visible near the bottom of the photo). The blue property links the yellow property to the Rio Pastaza over a tunnel for the Banos-Puyo highway. The red outlines south of the Rio Pastaza are some of our Naturetrek and Cerro Candelaria properties.

This week’s “Forests in the Sky” purchases. Los Llanganates National Park is outlined in green. Our purchase of the yellow property clears out a potentially-problematic inholding in the high peaks of the park and almost reaches down to the low valley of the Rio Pastaza (visible near the bottom of the photo). The blue property links the yellow property to the Rio Pastaza over a tunnel for the Banos-Puyo highway. The red outlines south of the Rio Pastaza are some of our Naturetrek and Cerro Candelaria properties.

Today, thanks to so many generous donors to the World Land Trust “Big Match” campaign, our ten-year-old dream of protecting a strip of forest that would connect Parque Nacional Los Llanganates to Parque Nacional Sangay is now within reach. In just two weeks World Land Trust was able to raise 280,000 pounds for us, and with this we have finally been able to build a protected corridor all the way from some of the high peaks of P. N. Los Llanganates (altitude 3400m) down to the north bank of the Rio Pastaza (alt. 1500m). There our new protected area meets our south bank reserves, the Naturetrek and Cerro Candelaria Reserves, which extend (with a few minor gaps) all the way to the high alpine grasslands of PN Sangay at 3860m. Thus the biological corridor declared long ago by the local governments is now a real thing instead of just a piece of paper.

I know that many of my friends and readers of this blog helped to make this possible. We are very grateful to all of you!!!! (And I hope some of you will come visit this land you helped protect!)

The biological corridor between the national parks of Los Llanganates and Sangay is especially important for large endangered mammals like the Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque). Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

The biological corridor between the national parks of Los Llanganates and Sangay is especially important for large endangered mammals like the Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque). Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

The purchase outlined in yellow includes a significant inholding in Parque Nacional Los Llanganates. Our purchase of this inholding gives greater protection to the park, which suffers from heavy abuse (including burning, ranching, and abuse of wildlife) in other inholdings. This property is especially important to me personally, since it is where I discovered my first Teagueia orchid species. The unexpected evolutionary radiation of these Teagueia orchids on this and neighboring mountains is the most remarkable thing I’ve ever found in nature. We had protected about half the members of this radiation when we purchased Cerro Candelaria. Now we have protected the other half of the radiation (curiously, there are no Teagueia species in common between the two mountains).

Teagueia alyssana, one of the first Teagueia species I discovered. I named it after my friend Alyssa Roberts. Photo: Lou Jost.

Teagueia alyssana, one of the first Teagueia species I discovered. It grows within the yellow-outlined property in the map above. I named it after my friend Alyssa Roberts. Photo: Lou Jost.

The main Banos-Puyo highway, which limits the possibilities for a biological corridor, here goes underground through a tunnel deep below one of our purchases (the one outlined in blue in the map at the top of this post). That piece of land was absolutely critical, and we are very lucky to have gotten it.

The Banos-Puyo highway disappears into the mountain (lower left) and comes back out a kilometer away.

The Banos-Puyo highway disappears into the mountain (lower left) and comes back out a kilometer away.

The protected strip we’ve bought this week is very narrow, just 200 meters wide in places. Our original Big Match goal was to also buy the extensive block of excellent cloud forest adjoining that first strip. That financial goal hasn’t been met yet. The owners are negotiating with us now, and WLT has offered to continue the “Forests in the Sky” campaign until this land is secured. When it is secured, we will not only have created a robust corridor, we’ll also have protected a unique cloud forest with many new endemic plant species!

The dark golden-orange outlines are the properties we are still trying to buy, along with the one in aqua, which belongs to a different owner. This will protect the whole watershed of the Rio Machay.

The dark golden-orange outlines are the properties we are still trying to buy, along with the one in aqua, which belongs to a different owner. This will protect the whole watershed of the Rio Machay.

Lepanthes marshana, a new species I discovered in the cloud forest block that we are still trying to buy. Photo: Lou Jost.

Lepanthes marshana, a new species I discovered in the cloud forest block that we are still trying to buy. Photo: Lou Jost.

Lou Jost

More on Spectacled Bears (Tremarctos ornatus)

Spectacled Bear

Wild Spectacled Bear unconcerned by my presence.
Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

I’ve only seen wild Spectacled Bears twice. The first time, the bear literally fell out of a tree from fright when it saw me! The second time, several years later, the bear paid no attention at all, and I was able to approach closely and take as many photos as I wanted. Above and at the end of this post are a couple of those pictures.

Our reserve caretakers have seen bears a few times in our reserves, especially Cerro Candelaria Reserve and our new adjacent Naturetrek Reserve. Once, our caretaker Luis Recalde found a bear in the Naturetrek Reserve, but realized he had left his camera at home, an hour’s walk from the spot. He ran home, then went back up the mountain with his camera, and the bear was still there, eating Clusia fruits! These are some of his pictures from that day:

Spectacled Bear

Spectacled Bear in our Naturetrek Reserve, in the rain. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.

Spectacled Bear

Spectacled Bear in our Naturetrek Reserve. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.

Spectacled Bear

Spectacled Bear. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.

The Spectacled Bear looks a lot like the medium-sized temperate-zone Black Bear (Ursus americanus), except for its distinctive tan or whitish “eyeglasses” (which are often incomplete). However, DNA and morphological analysis reveals that this resemblance is only superficial, and that the Spectacled Bear is not closely related to any of the world’s other living bear species. One clue to this is their number of chromosomes: 52 pair instead of the 74 pair found in all other living bears except the panda (which has 42 chromosomes). Bears first appear in the fossil record around 30 million years ago; these were more like badgers than like today’s bears. They probably evolved in Eurasia but soon spread to North America. Around 20 million years ago in Asia, an offshoot of the main bear lineage led to today’s pandas. Then around ten to thirteen million years ago in North America, another offshoot of the main bear lineage appeared. This offshoot is called the Tremarctinae, and it led to our Spectacled Bear. All the other living bears diverged from each other relatively recently, less than six million years ago.

The Tremarctinae offshoot that eventually produced the Spectacled Bear also produced perhaps the largest carnivorous land mammals that ever lived, the Short-faced Bears (Arctodus and Arctotherium). These things weighed more than a ton! The earliest fossils of Short-faced Bears date from about 4 to 5 million years ago, contemporary with an extinct species of Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos floridanus) in North America. The Short-faced Bears evolved specialized carnivore features, while the extinct species of Spectacled Bear evolved specialized herbivore features. Because of these differences in feeding habits there was some uncertainty about whether the Short-faced Bears were really related to the Spectacled Bears. In 2008 it became possible to extract DNA from ancient Short-faced Bear remains, and this DNA confirmed that they were the closest relatives of the Spectacled Bears.

Arctodus

Arctodus. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Both these bear genera spread into South America when that continent was joined to North America by the rising Isthmus of Panama around 2-3 million years ago. Lucky for us tropical biologists, both the North and South American Short-faced Bears became extinct about 10000 years ago. The North American Spectacled Bear also became extinct around that time. The only survivor of this extraordinary group of bears is our Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus).

Male Spectacled Bears can reach 200 kg but females only reach a quarter of that weight. They eat mostly fruits and berries, bromeliad hearts, and palm hearts, but occasionally they manage to kill and eat young Mountain Tapir or other animals, including (rarely) cattle. The local people here are afraid of them, but actual reports of attacks on humans are very rare. One recent death in Peru was reported, but it was due to a bear falling out of a tree and killing the hunter who shot it!

Spectacled Bears are found in the Andes and foothills of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, with some populations spreading to low elevations, especially in the dry forests of Peru. There may possibly be some in the Darien of Panama and in northern Argentina. The total population is estimated to be at least 20000 individuals and possibly several times that, but population is hard to estimate and hunting can eliminate them from areas which appear suitable. People hunt them because they eat crops (especially corn), or for meat and fat, or for special body parts which are used in local traditional medicines and exported for oriental medicine.

Males have home ranges perhaps around 60 sq km while females have ranges of about 15 sq km. However, ranges of individual females can overlap. That means our Cerro Candelaria Reserve, by itself, could support perhaps one male and two to four females. This is not enough for a sustainable population, but the highest-elevation parts of our reserve adjoin the very large Sangay National Park, so our population is likely to remain stable. Bears move up and down slopes seasonally, so our protected low-elevation habitat may also be very important for the survival of the bears in the northern section of Sangay National Park (which contains mostly high-elevation habitats). Eventually we hope to create a protected biological corridor between Sangay National Park and the Llanganates National Park, to help ensure sustainability of the large mammal populations in both parks and in our own reserves. This area has been declared an Ecological Corridor by the relevant municipalities, and has been declared a “Gift to the Earth” by WWF, but nothing real has been done to protect the area. Our reserves do offer real protection.

Lou Jost
http://www.ecominga.com
http://www.loujost.com

Spectacled Bear

Spectacled Bear in its temporary sleeping nest. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

Note to geneticists: The divergence times I gave above are from analyses of molecular data by Yu et al 2007 and Krause et al 2008 based on mitochondrial DNA, which often underestimate divergence times. For a discussion of the dangers of using of mitochondrial DNA for bear dating, see Jerry Coyne’s website post: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/a-new-study-of-polar-bears-underlines-the-dangers-of-reconstructing-evolution-from-mitochondrial-dna/

Online resources:

Yu et al (2007). Analysis of complete mitochondrial genome sequences increases phylogenetic resolution of bears (Ursidae), a mammalian family that experienced rapid speciation.

Krause et al (2008).Mitochondrial genomes reveal an explosive radiation of extinct and extant bears near the Miocene-Pliocene boundary.

Anne-Marie Hodge. Updated Range of Immensity for Arctotherium: New Record for Largest Known Bear