Un-Bear-able! Tropical Conservation Semester Students Observe Rare Andean Bears

Spectacled BearThe Tropical Conservation Semester students couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend their weekend searching for the elusive Spectacled Bear, Tremarctos ornatus.  The only bears in South America, where they also are known as Andean Bears, they are exceptionally difficult to observe due to their dwindling numbers and shy habits; sadly, bear poaching remains rampant in Ecuador, and these bears have a deep fear of humans. At certain times of year, however, these secretive bears descend out of their high forest homes to forage on the rich fruits of aguacatillo trees, which produce delectable morsels resembling small avocados.  When these trees bear (hah!) fruits in great abundance, the Andean Bears can occasionally be observed climbing in and feeding from the trees.  On a free weekend, several TCS students took a trip to a cloud-forest near Ceiba’s El Pahuma Orchid Reserve to try their luck. After a 45-minute hike through the cool climate vegetation, we were rewarded:  we saw not one but two bears foraging about 30 feet overhead!  These stunning animals, clambering on what appeared to be impossible slender branches for such large mammals, posed briefly before scampering to the forest floor beyond the reach of student cameras.  An incredible weekend!