By Sean M. McHugh

Over the past four years, I have worked on three different continents studying a number of large mammal species via remote cameras to gain a better understanding of their occupancy, population densities, habitat selection, and behavioral ecology. Remote camera stations are an effective way to sample and study elusive low-density mammal species that are keen to human disturbance and would otherwise be nearly impossible to detect with the human eye. Apex predators and other large mammals typically have massive energetic and spatial requirements within the ecosystems they call home. It is these resource requirements that naturally make large mammals the least abundant species present in nature and almost always the first fauna to disappear. In addition to large carnivores charisma and potential funding benefits, it is imperative to use the remaining intact wild populations of apex predators as a powerful vector. By using suitable mammals as flagship species (i.e. Spectacled Bears) can allow for the protection and connection of remaining natural habitats that make life possible for all other flora and fauna in those ecosystems. When it comes to conducting a robust and effective remote camera station study one must begin to ask questions pertaining to the target species they intend to research. The greater the amount of cameras strategically deployed and the larger a study area should result in a stronger dataset and therefore more potent and accurate conservation efforts.

A human hand next to a bear print for size comparison

Having worked and researched mammals in a number of different biome types (tropical rainforest, boreal forest, grasslands, and semi-arid bushveldt), I feel it’s safe to say running a study in the tropical montane forest of South America has proven to be my most difficult undertaking both physically and logistically. The tropical forests that are born beneath the Andean Mountains begin life high in elevation; in comparison, habitat types of this height in temperate latitudes wouldn’t be montane forest but treeless rocky outcrops or snow-capped peaks. It is the inaccessibility and sheer slope of these Andean forests that make research here so difficult. It is because of these environmental factors that Andean forests are some of the least studied terrestrial ecosystems on earth. Having now explained some of the complexity regarding remote cameras, large carnivore conservation, and tropical montane forest I can discuss our target species in greater detail. The scientific priority for this project was to detect and collect as much data on the Spectacled or Andean Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) within Rainforest Partnership’s (RP) Colibri Cloudforest. After roughly one month of having our 30 camera stations deployed, I am elated to report that we have captured a Spectacled Bear on one of the camera stations.

Bear claw marks on a tree

This moment has been a dream of mine since I first started my scientific career, to photograph and study the only species of bear that lives in South America. Our initial detection is now the beginning of much more work to come but for now, RP, Jasmina, and myself can savor this sweet moment that took so much planning and work in order to obtain visual evidence of this cryptic and mysterious bear! By the looks of the individual, which are unique to each Spectacled Bear’s facial and chest markings, I believe this is an adult male bear. Andean Bears show a great degree of sexual dimorphism and the males are roughly twice the size of an adult female. Having worked with a Spectacled Bear in captivity many years ago at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, I have decided to name this individual Rizzaro or “Rizz” in memory of the late captive bear that now can be honored by his wild Peruvian cousin.  The intelligence this male bear exhibited was quite impressive, I’ve photographed many other large carnivores, but rarely do they investigate the camera before smelling my pungent olfactory lures. Bears, which are in the family Ursidae do in fact have the best sense of smell when compared to any other group of carnivores. This smart male bear came right for the camera and began to process what this new device was doing in his fruiting grove of trees. I knew I had successfully detected a bear before checking the footage on my computer, as he twisted my camera around and left two long black hairs on the tree with my lure. It is estimated that Andean Bears can cover 1500m up or down in elevation in a single day, that’s greater than the difference between sea level and the highest point in Pennsylvania! This daily elevation migration coupled with massive home ranges makes studying these bears extremely difficult. This bear was detected at 1995m and was there for a group of fruiting trees.  It’s well-known bears move between high Andean pampas or paramo habitats and tropical montane forest. The detection of this charismatic species allows for greater evidence to regional governments to protect these beautiful forests that the animals and people of this rugged region of Peru call home. Stay tuned for more footage, as this was our first bear video, but most certainly not our last!!

“Rizzaro” the Spectacled Bear

This moment has been a dream of mine since I first started my scientific career, to photograph and study the only species of bear that lives in South America. Our initial detection is now the beginning of much more work to come but for now, RP, Jasmina, and myself can savor this sweet moment that took so much planning and work in order to obtain visual evidence of this cryptic and mysterious bear! By the looks of the individual, which are unique to each Spectacled Bear’s facial and chest markings, I believe this is an adult male bear. Andean Bears show a great degree of sexual dimorphism and the males are roughly twice the size of an adult female. Having worked with a Spectacled Bear in captivity many years ago at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, I have decided to name this individual Rizzaro or “Rizz” in memory of the late captive bear that now can be honored by his wild Peruvian cousin. The intelligence this male bear exhibited was quite impressive, I’ve photographed many other large carnivores, but rarely do they investigate the camera before smelling my pungent olfactory lures. Bears, which are in the family Ursidae do in fact have the best sense of smell when compared to any other group of carnivores. This smart male bear came right for the camera and began to process what this new device was doing in his fruiting grove of trees. I knew I had successfully detected a bear before checking the footage on my computer, as he twisted my camera around and left two long black hairs on the tree with my lure. It is estimated that Andean Bears can cover 1500m up or down in elevation in a single day, that’s greater than the difference between sea level and the highest point in Pennsylvania! This daily elevation migration coupled with massive home ranges makes studying these bears extremely difficult. This bear was detected at 1995m and was there for a group of fruiting trees.  It’s well-known bears move between high Andean pampas or paramo habitats and tropical montane forest. The detection of this charismatic species allows for greater evidence to regional governments to protect these beautiful forests that the animals and people of this rugged region of Peru call home. Stay tuned for more footage, as this was our first bear video, but most certainly not our last!!

 

 

This blog is part of a series of blogs Experiencing the Cloudforest! that we will be sharing weekly on our website to take you more closely to what happens

Unveiling the Cloudforest!