An Andean bear eating puya (the plant depicted below) high in páramo. The Andean bear is the only bear species in South America, and many people, even in South America, don’t even know it exists. The accelerated rate of habitat loss and fragmentation poses a significant threat to these bears, which are listed as threatened across their range, and endangered in Ecuador. The terrain they inhabit, either the rugged high elevation páramo, or the incredibly dense cloud forest, make research efforts difficult, and so relatively little is know about this species at this time.
Santiago, a biologist with a career focus on Ecuadors endangered Andean bear, examines the remains of a freshly eaten puya. Puya, a large bromeliad, is the food of choice for the bears that live up here in the paramo at 12,000 feet.
As a park ranger, Pancho spends day after day sage-guarding these remote and rugged highlands on horseback. While the páramo is critical habit for Andean bears, it also is vital for Ecuadors long term water supply. These highlands function as a sponge of sorts, absorbing and retaining rain water, and then distributing it consistently throughout the lower elevations. As it turns out, preserving the Andean bear and its habitat is very much in the best interest of the local communities.