Close encounter with a Spectacled Bear

Our rangers Fausto Recalde, Santiago Recalde, and Jordy Salazar ran into this Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) near the border between our Naturetrek and Cerro Candelaria reserves. Fausto and Santiago took to the trees to get this video. The bear first seems to threaten/bluff our rangers, and then moves slowly through the trees, not very nervous. This is a big improvement over my first encounter with a Spectacled Bear in that area, in the late 1990’s. In my encounter the bear was so scared that it fell out of its tree and ran away at full speed. Our protection of these bears for the last sixteen years has made the difference.

If you listen closely, the bear in the video is calling softly. This is similar to one of the sounds of an online recording of a Spectacled Bear calling for its cub, so maybe there was an unseen cub traveling with our bear:

Naturetrek Reserve was financed by donations from Naturetrek  to the World Land Trust. Puro Coffee () supports ranger Jordy Salazar through the World Land Trust’s Keepers of the Wild program. Fausto and Santiago are also supported by this program. Thanks to their work, the birds and animals in our forests are feeling more confident and are easier to see than they used to be. With bears, though, we have to maintain a little fear of humans, for the bears’ own safety, in order to minimize conflicts between bears and local people.

Lou Jost, Fundacion Ecominga

Spectacled Bear close encounter in our Rio Zunac Reserve

Dinner guest in the Rio Zunac Reserve. Video by Alyssa Kullberg.

[Vea traduccion en Espanol abajo]

Two weeks ago we posted our reserve guard Santiago Recalde’s video of a close encounter with a fearless Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Last week Santiago returned to the same reserve with Alyssa Kullberg, a Fulbright Scholar who has just arrived here to spend the next nine months studying our new Magnolia species. They have just come back from the reserve this evening with news of their an astounding encounter with another of our large mammals, a Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus).

Alyssa told me that during the whole 4 hour hike from the roadhead to our very remote research station, they were seeing fresh Mountain Tapir, Spectacled Bear, and Puma tracks on the trail. They stayed a week in the reserve, and one day, while they were in the forest, a Spectacled Bear entered the station and stole some food. Later, while Alyssa and Santiago were eating dinner, the bear came back for more food, and approached the station quite closely (even though Alyssa and Santiago were loudly conversing) until it caught their scent. Even after catching their scent, the bear did not seem very frightened, as it paused to think about eating a young palm tree next to the trail.


Spectacled Bear coming to share dinner with Alyssa and Santiago. Note the Magnolia buds on the table in the foreground; most neotropical Magnolia species open only at night, so we have to collect the buds and care for them until nightfall. Photo: Alyssa Kullberg.

While we have seen tracks around the cabin before, and have had some minor bear damage in the past, this is the first time a bear has been this bold. We may be the victims of our own success in protecting this reserve– the animals are losing their fear of humans, so we may be heading for the kinds of bear problems that are common in North American national parks. We will try to be extra careful to protect our food, though this will not be easy. In any case, I’d rather have this problem than the problem of not having bears!

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

Encuentro cercano con un oso de anteojos en nuestra Reserva Rio Zuñac
Hace dos semanas posteamos un video de nuestro guardia Santiago Recalde acerca de un encuentro cercano con un tapir de montaña sin miedo en nuestra Reserva Rio Zuñac. La semana anterior regresamos a la misma reserva con Alyssa Kullberg, una becaria Fullbright que ha llegado aquí para invertir los siguientes nueve meses estudiando nuestra nueva especie de Magnolia. Han venido de regreso a la reserva esta tarde con noticias de su sorprendente encuentro con otro de nuestros grandes mamíferos, un oso de anteojos (Tremarctos ornatus).
Alyssa me dijo que durante las 4 horas de caminata desde la cabeza del camino hasta nuestra estación de investigación remota, vieron un Tapir de Montaña, un Oso de Anteojos, y caminos de Puma en el camino. Estuvieron una semana en la reserva , y un día, mientras estaban en el bosque, un Oso de Anteojos entró a la estación y robó algo de comida. Después, Alyssa y Santiago estaban comiendo la cena, el oso vino de regreso por mas comida, y se acercó bastante a la estación (a pesar de que Alyssa y Santiago conversaban en voz alta) hasta que atrapó su aroma. Incluso después de atrapar el aroma, el oso no se veía muy asustado, mientras se detenía a pensar en comer una palmera joven al lado del sendero.
Oso de anteojos ingresando para compartir la cena con Alyssa y Santiago. Tomar en cuenta que los brotes de Magnolia en la tabla en el suelo; muchas especies de Magnolias neotropicales se abren solo en la noche, así que tenemos que colectar los brotes y preocuparnos por ellos hasta que caiga la noche. Fotografía: Alyssa Kullberg.
Si bien hemos visto algunas pistas alrededor de la cabina antes, y hemos tenido daños menores en el pasado, esta es la primera vez que un oso de anteojos ha sido tan audaz. Es posible que seamos víctimas de nuestro propio éxito en la protección de esta reserva: los animales están perdiendo el miedo a los humanos, por lo que es posible que nos enfrentemos a los problemas de osos que son comunes en los parques nacionales de America del Norte. Intentaremos tener mucho cuidado en proteger nuestros alimentos, aunque esto no será fácil. En cualquier caso, ¿preferiría tener este problema que el problema de no tener osos!
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga.
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano Flores



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

[Traduccion en espanol abajo]

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

Avistamiento del oso de anteojos – Parte 2
Ayer publiqué un video de un oso de anteojos tomado por uno de nuestros guardias cerca de su pueblo de origen de El Placer, cerca de nuestra Reserva Naturetrek. Hoy recibí más videos del mismo avistamiento, tomados desde la escuela del pueblo. ¡Todos los niños pudieron ver al oso! Puedes oír su emoción en el fondo.
Video 01 – Oso de anteojos frente a la escuela local Parte 1
Video 02 – Oso de anteojos frente a la escuela local Parte 2
Y el video de ayer, tomado por la gente que aparece en los últimos segundos del video anterior:
Video 03 – Gran oso de anteojos macho en el cultivo cerca de nuestra Reserva Naturetrek
Estos osos están dañando los cultivos de las personas, pero quizás podamos convertir este problema en una ventaja para el pueblo. Si los osos llegaran con suficiente frencuencia, sería posible que la población gane algo de dinero del turismo. Quizas el pueblo podría plantar cultivos para los osos. El reto será encontrar una manera equitativa para garantizar que suficiente dinero del turismo va para los agricultores que lo hacen.
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga

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.

[Traduccion en espanol abajo]

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


Oso de anteojos, logros y retos
Video 01 – Hace unos pocos días, uno de nuestros guardias filmó este gran macho de Oso de Anteojos en campos cultivados cerca de su pueblo, junto a nuestra Reserva Naturetrek
Este año hemos estado encantados de ver un incremento dramático en avistamientos del Oso de anteojos (Tremarctos ornatus)  cerca de nuestras reservas Naturetrek, Cerro Candelaria, y Machay, las cuales en conjunto forman el corredor de vida silvestrie “Forests in the Sky” (Bosques en en Cielo) entre los parques nacionales Llanganates y Sangay. Hemos estado protegiendo estos osos y su hábitat desde hace diez años, y aparentemente hemos sido bastante exitosos.
De cualquier manera, esto trae nuevos retos conforme los osos y las personas comienzan a competir por la misma cominda. Como un ejemplo, los osos aman el maíz que la gente local cultiva, y pueden destruir sistemáticamente una plantación de un granjero, como mostramos en este video de cámara trampa:
En las últimas semanas hemos escuchado informes de un conflicto más serio, tal vez con el gran oso macho filmado en el video en la parte superior de esta publicación. El informe, que no está confirmado, acusa a los osos por matar varios terneros. Hubo un caso bien conocido de un pícaro oso de anteojos matando terneros en el norte de Ecuador hace unos pocos años, y yo he visto las fotos de una cámara trampa de un oso de anteojos atacando a un tapir de montaña, así que no es imposible, pero es muy raro. Nuestros guardias están investigando estos informes. Si resultan ser ciertos, tenemos un problema desafiante en nuestras manos. Los dueños de estos terneros no son grandes ganaderos con centenares de cabezas; son individuos pobres con solo un puñado de vacas a la vez. Un ternero es un gran  inversion, ​no algo cuya pérdida pueda ser fácilmente absorbida.
Por otro lado, muchos informes en otras partes de m,uerte de ganado debido a osos se han basado en evidencia circunstancial y de hecho pueden haber sido casos de osos carroñeros. Por ahora, solo podemos recopilar los hechos tan cuidadosamente como sea posible. Esperamos que estos últimos reportes demuestren ser infundados… Escribiré más cuando sepamos más hechos.
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano Flores