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

Releasing a rescued Spectacled Bear in our Rio Zunac Reserve

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Ukumari wakes up in his new home as the anesthesia wears off. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

Jeremy La Zelle and Greg Taylor, the men behind Backpacker Films, visited Banos in September 2015. When they heard about the pending release of a rescued Spectacled Bear in our Rio Zunac Reserve, they asked to join the release team.

The young bear had been found by a farmer two years earlier, badly injured. Doctors performed surgery on it and saved its life. Sebastian Kohn, director of Centro de Rescate Ilitio on the slopes of Volcan Cotopaxi, took it into his care and raised it, taking care to maintain its wild character and not turn it into a pet. The goal was always to return it to the wild. He fed it while hidden so that it did not associate food with people, and the bear kept its distrust of humans.

When Volcan Cotopaxi began to erupt, the Centro de Rescate suddenly had to close, so the bear had to be released quickly. The Ministry of the Environment asked us to receive the bear and assist in its release. Our rangers and a team of specialists carried the bear on a stretcher for several hours to take it to good habitat away from humans. Jeremy and Greg filmed the whole process, and the video below, released a few days ago, is the result.

 

It’s a testament to the best elements of our own species that so many people put so much effort and so much heart into the rescue and rehabilitation of this poor bear:

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The team of veterinarians, bear experts, “stepfather” Sebastian Kohn (yellow shirt at left), and EcoMinga rangers (Luis and Santiago Recalde, not in view, and Fausto Recalde holding the intravenous serum bag). Photo: Santiago Recalde?EcoMinga.

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EcoMinga Ranger Luis Recalde holds the bear’s head while the veterinarian tapes its claws to minimize danger to the crew. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

The bear, after its release, wandered widely and was filmed by camera traps up to seven kilometers from its release site. It was last recorded alive and well about six months after its release, but its body was later found by Ministry of the Environment field staff, well outside our reserve. Some speculated that the bear had been attacked by another bear, but we don’t really know.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

Jaguarundi, Spectacled Bear, and Puma pass by our Dracula Reserve camera trap

In our Dracula Reserve in northwest Ecuador, Javier Robayo, Juan Pablo Reyes, and ranger Hector Yela set up a camera trap to monitor one of our trails. We left it there for two months. It was a well-chosen spot and several different species of mammals marked their territories right in front of the camera.

The most exciting for us was a fleeting glimpse of a slick, agile Jaguarundi (with the curious Latin name  Puma yagouaroundi). This was the first time our camera traps had recorded this species.

On another day a puma (Felis concolor) walks past the very same sot and marks his territory. A puma (the same one?) also passed here at night.

A Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) also thought this same spot would be a good place to scent-mark his territory by rubbing his back against a special tree. We have often recorded this back-rubbing behavior in our reserves’ camera traps (see here and here for examples).

Finally a little antpitta of the genus Grallaria also comes down this same trail. I am not sure of the species. If any reader knows, please tell us in the comments.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

 

World Land Trust Big Match campaign for EcoMinga: “Forests in the Sky”, October 1 to 15


Drone video of our Cerro Candelaria Reserve and the proposed “Forests in the Sky” corridor, by Backpacker Films. Thanks very much to Jeremy and Greg for making this for us!

Every year, during the first two weeks of October, the World Land Trust (the UK charity which is our largest source of funds) has a major fundraising campaign, the “Big Match” campaign, for one of their partner’s urgent projects. This year, they have chosen us as the beneficiary, for our project to protect a critical strip of forest, the “Forests in the Sky”, connecting Ecuador’s northeast Andes to its southeast Andes. During these 15 days, donations to the WLT for this project will be matched 1:1, so any donation is effectively doubled.

If the campaign is successful, we will be able to protect the remaining forest corridor between two national parks, Los Llanganates and Sangay, so that animals like the rare Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque), Spectacled Bear, puma, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, and others will continue to be able to pass between the northern and southern ranges of the eastern Andes in Ecuador. This interchange is important in order to avoid inbreeding and maintain genetic diversity in animals whose population sizes are low. Genetic diversity is especially important in a fast-changing world such as our current one— climate change and introduced diseases will pose novel challenges to these animals, and genetic diversity will provide the raw material permitting each species to meet these challenges.

An elevation map of the Andes of Ecuador, with blue being lowest, red and white being highest. The straight, deep valley of the Rio Pastaza (in white rectangle) breaks the eastern Andes into a northern and southern part.

An elevation map of the Andes of Ecuador, with blue being lowest, red and white being highest. The straight, deep valley of the Rio Pastaza (in white rectangle) breaks the eastern Andes into a northern and southern part.

The elevation map of Ecuador above clearly shows the strategic importance of the gap we are trying to protect. Blue represents low elevations, while red and white represent high elevations. The map shows that the Ecuadorian Andes are divided into a western range and an eastern range, with a dry central plateau (almost completely deforested) separating them. The eastern range has only one deep blue cut, in about the center of the country. That low valley, which is now partly deforested, is the valley of the Rio Pastaza, where we work. This is the place in the eastern Andes where deforestation will break the connectivity of the eastern Andes. This is the place that has to be saved if connectivity is to be preserved.

Google Earth image showing the Rio Pastaza valley (white rectangle).

Click to enlarge. Google Earth image showing the Rio Pastaza valley (white rectangle).

Lateral view of the Rio Pastaza valley.

Click to enlarge. Lateral view of the Rio Pastaza valley.

The importance of this corridor was first realized in the late 1990s by the Fundacion Natura and the World Wildlife Fund, who sponsored a series of scientific studies of the area. As a result, the town of Banos, along with several neighboring towns, passed resolutions declaring this the “Corredor Ecologico Llanganates-Sangay”, and recognized the special status of the area in their official land use plans. The governments pledged to encourage sustainable development and ecotourism in the area. In 2002 the World Wildlife Fund declared this corridor a “Gift to the Earth”, the only Ecuadorian landscape which has received this designation apart from the Galapagos Islands (which received it in 1997).

With the help of Fundacion Natura staff (especially Xavier Viteri and Dania Quirola), management plans were drawn up, and workshops were held for the local people living in the corridor. There was broad local support for the initiative, and many very nice plans. However, in the end the local governments did not establish any reserves to protect this forest. There was a willingness to do so among some departments, but no funds available. The local governments also did not pass any real measures to restrict land use in the corridor, and Fundacion Natura itself went bankrupt and disappeared.

Our Fundacion EcoMinga was formed in 2006. Shortly after its formation, the environmental officer of the town of Banos told me that a large tract of land between the two national parks had been offered to the town for purchase, but that there were no funds to buy it. He asked if we might be able to buy it, so that it would not be lost for conservation. We therefore made a proposal to the World Land Trust, and they quickly found a donor, Puro Coffee, to sponsor the purchase. This was the beginning of our Cerro Candelaria Reserve, whose southern border is Sangay National Park. Over the years we have extended this protected forest northward towards the other national park, Los Llanganates, with the help of WLT corporate donors PricewaterhouseCoopers and Naturetrek. We have now protected an almost-continuous strip of forest from Sangay National Park to the Rio Pastaza, and we work closely with WWF-Ecuador in helping to create a new management plan for the whole corridor.

WWF draft map of the officially declared corridor between the two national parks, with our reserves shown hatched in red. The large Cerro Candelaria and Naturetrek Reserves on the west edge of that area form the backbone of our "Forests in the Sky" corridor reserve. The areas of the corridor outside our reserves receive no protection.  Map courtesy WWF and Pedro Plinio Araujo.

WWF draft map of the officially declared corridor between the two national parks, with our reserves shown hatched in red. The large Cerro Candelaria and Naturetrek Reserves on the west edge of that area form the backbone of our “Forests in the Sky” corridor reserve. The areas of the corridor outside our reserves receive no protection. Map courtesy WWF and Pedro Plinio Araujo.

Researchers Karima Lopez, Gorki Rios, Carolina Reyes, and our own Juan Pablo Reyes and the Recalde brothers, have placed many camera traps in this protected strip. The cameras reveal healthy populations of all the large mammals that might use a corridor. For example, Gorki Rios was able to identify (on the basis of variations in the bears’ “spectacles”) at least eight individual Spectacled Bears using this forest. Puma, mountain tapir, brocket deer, and smaller mammals were also recorded.

Eight different individual Spectacled Bears who all use our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Credit:  PCTA, Gorki Rios, compiled by Juan Pablo Reyes.

Eight different individual Spectacled Bears who all use our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Credit: PCTA, Gorki Rios, compiled by Juan Pablo Reyes.

Mountain Tapir in the corridor. Photo: PCTA/Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

Mountain Tapir in the corridor. Photo: PCTA/Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

Puma (Felis concolor) in the corridor. Photo: PCTA/Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga

Puma (Felis concolor) in the corridor. Photo: PCTA/Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga

Marc and Denise Dragiewicz, Eyes of the World Films, filmed the upper parts of the Cerro Candelaria reserve recently (thanks Marc and Denise!):

Their time-lapse video of Cerro Candelaria’s clouds:

This month’s Big Match campaign will, if successful, allow us to continue extending our protected corridor across the the Rio Pastaza and northward to finally connect with the Los Llanganates national park. We will finally be able to make the local community’s proposal into reality.

Cerro Mayordomo, rising from the Rio Pastaza valley. Los Llanganates National Park begins near its peak. Its southern slope is the target of he "Forests in the Sky" campaign to join Los Llanganates and Sangay National Parks. Googel Earth/Lou Jost.

Cerro Mayordomo, rising from the Rio Pastaza valley. Los Llanganates National Park begins near its peak. Its southern slope is the target of the “Forests in the Sky” campaign to join Los Llanganates and Sangay National Parks. Googel Earth/Lou Jost.

The land we are trying to buy, on Cerro Mayordomo, is itself some of the most interesting and unique forest in Ecuador, as WWF also recognized in their “Gift to the Earth” declaration. Cerro Mayordomo is where I first discovered the spectacular evolutionary radiation of the orchid genus Teagueia. It is also the place where I discovered several new species of Lepanthes orchids, such as L. marshana, L. aprina, and L. mayordomensis. A spectacular recently-described tree, Meriania aurata, is also found on Cerro Mayordomo, though it was first discovered near our Rio Zunac Reserve. There are likely to be many more discoveries of new species as we explore it more.

Lepanthes mayordomensis, a new species so far found only on the land we hope to purchase for the corridor. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes mayordomensis, a new species so far found only on the land we hope to purchase for the corridor. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Click to enlarge. The twisted forest near the top of Cerro Candelaria. The forest near the top of Cerro Mayordomo is similar. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Click to enlarge. The twisted forest near the top of Cerro Candelaria. Note man in the middle. The forest near the top of Cerro Mayordomo is similar. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Cerro Mayordomo is also where I first found a nest of the endangered Black-and-chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori), about eighteen or nineteen years ago. I’ve written more about that eagle here. Below, the eagle flies over the Corridor. You can see the Banos-Puyo highway breaking its continuity. However, this road disappears into a very long tunnel just off the right-hand side of the picture. The forest we will buy for the corridor has the highway running deep underneath it!

Black and chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori) crossing the corridor. Below is the Rio Pastaza and the Banos-Puyo highway, which disappears into a tunnel just to the right. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.

Black and chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori) crossing the corridor. Below is the Rio Pastaza and the Banos-Puyo highway, which disappears into a tunnel just to the right. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.

A Black-and-Chestnut Eagle flies past its nest in a cloud forest in eastern Ecuador. Photo credit: © Mark C. Wilson

A Black-and-Chestnut Eagle flies over a cloud forest in eastern Ecuador. Photo credit: © Mark C. Wilson

Black-and-chestnut Eagle juvenile in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo:  Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.

Black-and-chestnut Eagle juvenile in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.

There is considerable urgency to make these purchases now. In December of this year, the President of Ecuador will resubmit to Congress a law establishing very high capital gains taxes for large land sales. If this law is passed, prices for large lots will double or triple, making the Corridor economically very difficult to complete.

Please help us make this corridor a reality. Donate to the World Land Trust’s 2015 Big Match Campaign for the “Forests in the Sky” corridor; your donation will be duplicated by them!

Lou Jost