Vida Silvestre News
Pinocho, the andean bear for exportation
by Gaby Vasconez
The andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is an endemic species belonging to the Andes that inhabits the mountains of Venezuela up to Bolivia, and the only bear species in Ecuador. In the country, it is distributed from 900 meters to 4,250 meters above sea level, this means from clouded forests to the andean paramos. The andean bear is an omnivorous species. It can base its diets on vegetatie matter or it can hunt other mammals. Within its preferences, are bromeliads and fruits such as “aguacatillo”. Unlike other bear species, the andean bear does not hibernate because food is abundant throughout the whole year.
The andean bear’s situation, like that of many other large mammals, is critical. Actually, the Red List for species in Ecuador catalogs the bear as being endangered.
The andean bear’s vulnerability increases as it faces more threats, mainly anthropogenic pressures. The expansion of the agricultural front, destruction of its natural habitat, hunting, and even climate change are factors that provoke drastic reductions in wild populations.
As a result of growing threats, in 2013 the case of Pinocho came about, a bear cub rescued from a rural location by La Mana. After him being rescued from a family that was keeping him as a pet, the bear cub was cared for and taken to a rehabilitation center for wildlife in the province of Cotopaxi, where he shared a cell with Estrella, a andean spectacled female bear that was getting ready to be liberated. Although Pinocho’s care was focused on being able to liberate him in the near future, the bear showed high level of interest in the contact he had with the group of people that worked close to the animal. For this reason, in 2017, it was decided that Pinocho could not be liberated, rather he will be sent to a zoo in Maryland, United States, where he will stay for the rest of his life.
The current situation with the andean bear in ecuador is critical, but can be helped on an institutional level using reforms from the ministry of the environment. Further, on an individual level, there are many activities that can be done to help the protection of the andean bear.
A focal point towards change is supporting community tourism. This works on a change of perspective related to getting to know and relating to the ecosystem; an easy point of access for any member of society. Economic help, supported by the increasing traffic of visitors, offers the communities an opportunity to invest their money in the protection of the remnant forests, and along with these, all of the species that inhabit them. The high andean forests, home to the andean spectacled bear, are ecosystems that critically threatened by the increasing presence of man. Activities such as agriculture and livestock practices promote deforestation, and, at the same time, an increase in population and a high demand for resources.
Being that economic necessity in communities that are near these threatened ecosystems is indispensable, entrepreneurship in community tourism offers income while conserving the forest. Places such as Yunguilla, “El Mirador del Oso”, and Pimampiro, in the province of Imbabura propose these type of activities. The proposal of community tourism attracts the attention of biologists whom plant projects to monitor species and projects for liberation in future protected areas such as these.
As a result, community tourism promotes environmental education and interest in conservation, not only in rural communities where these activities are being put in place, but also in the visitors, who experience first hand Ecuador’s native fauna and flora. Support for community tourism with a focus on being conscious about the protection of andean forests portions out income for the people who need economic resources in an eco-friendly manner.
Coming back to Pinocho’s case, the bear is currently in Salisbury Zoo receiving visitors interested in foreign and exotic species. The exchange of species like Pinocho allows the ministry of the environment to receive funds for the continuation of work proposed in the National Strategy for the Conservation of the Andean Bear. If Pinocho’s offspring is successful in the future, the economic help offered by the american zoo will allow the protection of wild populations in Ecuador.