Defend Threatened Wildlife
If you hike the wild lands of the Andes, and you’re quiet and a bit lucky, you might encounter an Andean bear. You will be astounded by its grandeur, and then saddened to know that the bear population, no more than 3,000 individuals in Ecuador, is declining across its range, which extends from Venezuela to Bolivia and Argentina. Indeed, the Andean bear is classified as a vulnerable species.
These charismatic creatures are losing their forest and high grassland habitats to agricultural expansion. To survive they need our help. FCT has focused on the southern part of Sangay National Park and its buffer zone, where a healthy population of Andean bears is found. Our aim is to protect the population, and to do this, we organize our efforts along two lines of action:
• education in school and community settings to generate an understanding of the rarity of this species, its ecological role, and empathy with bears as neighbors and rightful residents of the forest;
• ecological research of bear diets, demography, and habitat use.
"This Is My Place" follows a day in the life of Armando Castellanos, a bear research technician with FTC.
An Andean bear consumes the seed stalk of a giant ground bromeliad, Puya sp. (credit: Jim Clare)
To foster this instinctive attitude of identification, FCT has contributed to primary school curricula in our area of
These varied activities operate within our Don Oso Program. We include the “don” as it is used for humans (as in “Buenos días, don Juan”) to signal the sense of identification with the bear held by farmers. Residents on the agricultural frontier living in proximity to native habitats will say about bears, “Sólo les falta el habla,” meaning “The only thing they lack is the ability to speak.”
Children, wearing Don Oso masks, attend a presentation on the Andean bear.
action, with bear theater and visual presentations, sharing camera trap photos of bears from the region’s forests. It has given community seminars on avoiding conflicts between bears and the cattle kept by residents. Conflict mitigation was also the topic at seminars given by FCT to workers at the government’s largest hydroelectric facility, Amaluza, where camp garbage attracted bears and put them and the facility workers at risk.
In another project, in collaboration with the Ministry of the Environment, FCT trained ten community park guards to monitor bear signs in the forests and páramos, and motivated community members to comply with regulations that protect native fauna.
Community park guards set up a camera trap in montane forest.
A bear researcher examines a Puya plant consumed by the Andean bear.
Setting up a camera trap.
The Don Oso Program has supported a variety of scientific research projects (leading to MS and PhD degrees), including a study of bear habitat, multi-year camera trapping projects to identify the local bear population’s demography, its use of space and forest resources, and publications and the presentation of results at professional meetings.
Studies have been carried out in conjunction with the National University of Costa Rica, the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Fundación Natura (Quito), and the Ministry of Education of Ecuador. Please see Resources/Publications for relevant citations.
To study the bear and other threatened wild fauna is a fundamental objective of FCT. The knowledge generated helps to increase the effectiveness of our conservation interventions, and when that knowledge is made available to the public, support of threatened wildlife is woven into the fabric of society.