Monday, October 2, 2023

An Andean bear in the landscape

The first time I saw an Andean bear in person, I wasn’t expecting it, even though I was following its tracks. It was 2013 and I had already been working with this species for five years at that point. Knowing that there were researchers who had been studying the bear on site for much longer than me without ever seeing it, I had assumed this scenario was very likely.

At this moment of my life, I am following the tracks of this majestic and huge animal through the foothills of the Serranía del Perijá, on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, understanding its steps in the forest, to understand it as a species and to be able to build effectively Ways to preserve it were more than enough for me. (Read: These are the best environmental projects, finalists for the BIBO Award)

“This tree has some very cool climbing marks,” I told my excursion guide as I began climbing the branches to photograph the claw marks on the trunk. “It has rubbed the bark many times, it still smells like a bear,” I continued as I began to carefully collect hair samples with tweezers. “The bear must have just passed here,” I said to myself as I began to climb down the tree, already satisfied with the record I had obtained.

“Look at him, Nicolás, there he is!” my companion shouted, pointing at him as I was about to put my feet on the ground. It was a huge male who was watching us in surprise the whole time from behind some bushes about eight meters away.

Hearing my companion’s cry, the bear ran down the hill. In order not to stress him, we carefully followed his trail at a safe distance on a parallel path and tried to photograph him. As he stopped for a few seconds, standing on his two hind legs and trying to sniff us from a distance, I managed to take a photo of him that I remember clearly, as if it were a bear in a landscape on a painting by the best painter. (Read: Replacing meat and milk with vegetables would reduce greenhouse gases)

Despite their enormous size, Andean bears can be very quiet animals with very cryptic habits and very agile. After this unexpected and pleasant encounter with him, life gave me the good fortune to meet him live several times on my way through this great Colombia.

Since my first field trip in 2008, following bear tracks, I knew that I would dedicate my life to the ecology and conservation of this species, and in fact it became one of my two types of work as a biologist. . I knew this because I was fascinated by the grand challenge of thinking about Andean bear conservation.

Whether we live in rural areas or big cities, our entire lives depend on the well-being of biodiversity. From water and oxygen to protection from natural disasters to the foods we eat every day; Everything comes from biodiversity, including the knowledge we have accumulated as humanity, science, innovation, art.

Biodiversity is the great source of humanity’s well-being. But this biodiversity and everything it offers us cannot exist without healthy ecosystems. So the question is: would it be possible for us to preserve this biodiversity by protecting a particular animal species? The answer is yes. Protect bears: These animals have tremendous survival skills, they are able to use different habitats and exploit a large amount of resources. (Read: Race against time to save the country’s forests and rivers)

The Andean bear is the largest carnivore in the Neotropics and the only living bear species in South America. It exhibits sexual dimorphism due to its size (males are significantly larger than females), its fur is black to dark brown and generally has whitish patches on the muzzle, neck, chest and, although much more rarely, also around the eyes (a fact why it is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a spectacled bear).

Although the Andean bear belongs to the taxonomic order of carnivores (like jaguars and other hypercarnivores), it is omnivorous in its diet (eating everything) and has a number of dental and cranial adaptations that allow it to contain a wide range of food resources in its diet Interior to take advantage of the forests and moors.

It eats everything from fruits of trees and shrubs (rich in fats and plant proteins) to palm buds and terrestrial and epiphytic bromeliads (rich in sugars) to some small and medium-sized mammals. This species of bear is also known to be able to eat large mammals such as the mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) or even sheep, goats and cattle. (Read: Santanderes joins forces to prevent water from running out)

Nicolás Reyes, curator of the Humboldt Institute’s mammal collection and member of the Andean Bear Specialist Group (ABET), IUCN.

Andean bears are common along the Andean chain, in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina, in dry and wet forests, in moors and even in perpetual snow, or even in semi-desert enclaves (such as the cities in western Peru). The three Andes mountains inhabit Colombia.

As long as there are healthy forests and moors with ecological connections, we will find bears in our mountains. Colombia is a country of bears and they are representatives of our wild nature. They are a keystone species in ecosystems because, as gardeners, they fertilize the land, spread seeds and change the structure of forests and renew them.

Andean bears are an indicator species of ecosystem health, as healthy bear populations indicate healthy and balanced ecosystems. As I heard the researcher Daniel Rodríguez – a pioneer of bear research in Colombia – say many years ago, who was my teacher in these Andean bear topics: “Without bears there is no forest, without forest there is no “water”. and without water there is no life.”

Due to their size, metabolic requirements, and ability to utilize a large amount of resources within their habitat, Andean bears are a landscape species as they live and move at a landscape scale. As is known from studies in other countries, Andean bears require large natural areas to live (around 125.8 km² for a male).

A recent study for Colombia conducted by the Wii Foundation with support from the Alexander von Humboldt Institute found that a single male Andean bear likely required more area for its daily movements than previously described for survival (238.86 km²). due to habitat quality conditions.

This makes this ursid species an umbrella species that includes a large number of animal and plant species in the ecosystems it inhabits, and also a flagship species because it is conspicuous and can attract the attention of society.

Another recent study carried out by the Humboldt Institute in collaboration with various organizations and experts on Andean bear issues revealed a 15% decline in areas suitable for the presence of this species in Colombia between 1970 and 2015, a fact attributed to isolation This species could indicate that due to the significant increase in the human footprint in the Andean region, the southern populations have diverged from the populations common in northern Colombia and Venezuela.

This phenomenon should not surprise us in a country where, according to a 2011 report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), there is a concentration of 52% of rural property in 1.15% of the population and where the The largest areas of fertile land are located in low-lying areas, concentrated in very few owners, while the majority of the rural population is concentrated in the Andes.

To protect bears, it is therefore necessary to think about the organization of our territory beyond the invisible boundaries of our institutions and their competences, to think about the planning of our production systems to make them sustainable and, for the rest, it requires that we engage with Problems are as complex as the social, economic and political conflicts of a Colombian society. Anyone who thinks about the conservation problems facing the Andean bear thinks about the country’s challenges.

As Ian McMillan would say, when thinking about protecting animals, what ultimately matters is not how much we need them given the benefits they provide us from natural ecosystems, but rather the need to evolve as humans , to maintain society, the skills necessary to preserve ourselves as human beings, beyond selfishness.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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