Written by: Becky Zugg, Teacher, Researcher, and Colegio Menor mother.
The Andean bear is an important symbol of strength and a source of pride throughout the Andes. Here in Ecuador, bears can be found in cloud forest, montane forest, and páramo grasslands. They are the only species of bear in South America and are also known as spectacled bears, due to the patterning around their eyes which is unique to each individual. This shy and elusive bear is an omnivore, feeding mostly on fruits and leaves. They spend most of their time on the ground but are adept climbers who can build nests in trees to use for eating and resting. Andean bears move between different habitats, following fruiting plants and other available food sources. Read more (directed to Quito News)
Thought to be seed dispersers, Andean bears play an important role in the maintenance of healthy ecosystems. Because they use a variety of habitats during different seasons, these bears are often used as an umbrella species for the conservation of other wildlife, such as the endangered Mountain tapir, and ecosystems, such as the páramo which is an important source of drinking water for the city of Quito.
Even though Andean bears are very shy and difficult to see in the wild, we know bears occur within the Metropolitan District of Quito. This means that even here in Cumbaya, what we do impacts the conservation of this important species. On-going research and conservation projects have focused on the Andean bear population in the cloud forests northwest of Quito; a new study started earlier this year by USFQ focuses on Andean bears in the páramo east of Quito, near Reserva Ecólogica Antisana.
Despite their uniqueness and importance, Andean bears are threatened by human activities such as deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and illegal killing. By bringing attention to Andean bears, together we can learn more about this unique species and work toward its conservation.