In Ecuador, the biodiversity born as a result of this cycle is vast and incalculable. Large tapirs, tiny frogs, very tall cedars and microscopic orchids inhabit this territory. A fundamental member of these ecosystems is the Andean bear or spectacled bear, the second largest mammal in the region and a top species in the food chain. Its presence guarantees the protection of a wide range of species, since its health is an indicator of the health of its territory. The spectacled bear is the guardian of the inter-Andean forests.
It is characterized by its dark black fur with light spots on the face, neck and chest that are unique to each individual. On the other hand, the sense of smell is one of the most developed senses, being much more powerful than that of a dog.
The Andean or spectacled bear is endemic to the tropical Andes and is the only bear species existing in South America. This species is omnivorous, diurnal, solitary and terrestrial. Its diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetable matter and meat. In many parts of its range, the key elements of its diet are plants of the Bromeliaceae family. At higher elevations, including the badlands, the Andean bear feeds on the heart of achupallas.
Where is the Andean bear found?
Andean bears are the only bears that inhabit the South American Andean region, occurring in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.
These animals are found from 800 to 4750 meters altitude, covering an area of approximately 260,000 km². There they find a great variety of food: sweet and fleshy fruits, bromeliads, palms and, sometimes, animal protein.
Trees are essential elements for their survival, since they can build platforms with tree branches to feed or rest.
They can climb for shelter when they feel threatened or even use tree trunks as communication zones by rubbing their bodies and leaving claw marks to inform other individuals of their presence.
The footprint of the Andean bear
The Andean bear needs to travel over large areas. Each individual requires about 30 km² to survive. Its preferred food is fruits and the sweet and juicy centers of some bromeliads. These two characteristics make it a fundamental ally of conservation, as it regenerates forests as it passes through.
How tall is the Andean bear?
Upright adult males can measure up to 2 meters and weigh between 140 to 175 kilograms. Females are a third smaller, reaching a maximum height of 1.6 meters.
It is mainly diurnal and solitary, except when the female is with her cubs, which can number from one to four cubs per birth.
At birth, the cubs are totally dependent on their mother. They are practically bald, blind and have no teeth. Their eyes generally open from the fourth or sixth week of age and within a few days they take their first steps. Generally, cubs do not leave the safety of the cave until they are 3 months old. It is believed that they remain with their mother until they are 2 years old when they become independent and leave in search of a new territory to inhabit. The bear and cubs communicate by means of different vocalizations similar to high-pitched squeaks or soft, purring sounds.
It is perhaps the most charismatic species of wildlife in Ecuador and is considered the guardian of the moors and water. Since it is considered an umbrella species, its protection contributes to the protection of other wild species and strategic ecosystems for the provisioning of resources such as water. It is also considered the gardener of the forest because when it moves or makes its nests in the branches of trees, it allows the passage of light, which facilitates the germination of new plants. In addition, it disperses seeds along its journey through the forest and the páramo, contributing to their dispersion and the regeneration of these ecosystems.
Threats to the Andean bear
The Andean bear has been classified as a species vulnerable to extinction according to the criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development.
Its main threat is the fragmentation and loss of its natural habitat, generated by the implementation of productive and extractive activities.
The bear is also hunted as an exhibition practice, for traditional or medicinal uses, or in response to the eventual consumption of livestock or crops in the communities surrounding its habitat.
On occasion, the bear consumes domestic animals or carrion found in nearby areas; therefore, its conservation depends directly on the communities and strategic actors in favor of the species.