Andean Bears: Ready for Their Closeup?

Russ Van Horn is studying Andean bears in Peru. Read his previous blog, Andean Bears: Cloud Forest of Peru.

Lima, Peru
A camera trap is placed along a game trail in the cloud forest of southeastern Peru.Dr. Ron Swaisgood, Division Head of the San Diego Zoo’s Applied Animal Ecology Division, arrived in Cusco, Peru, on Halloween. (See Ron’s blog, Bearly Started: New Bear Program in Peru.) I was delayed en route by landslides and mechanical trouble with the bus, so I missed seeing the streets crowded with revelers. We traveled to the field site and met with our collaborators from the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.
We also traveled into the cloud forest to perform maintenance on the digital camera trap I mentioned in an earlier blog entry. I was relieved to see that the camera was still in place and hadn’t been tampered with by humans or by wildlife. Bears, in particular, have a tendency to “investigate” camera traps, but we don’t know yet whether Andean bears have this expensive habit.

An image taken by a digital camera trap shows an ocelot following a game trail through the cloud forest.I was pleased to see that the camera trap had taken numerous pictures after we had left it. It recorded the presence of several species of wildlife on the game trail, but it didn’t take any photos of Andean bears. The camera had been in place for only a week, so there’s a chance it will document the presence of additional species before we move it. Who knows, perhaps it will even snap a photo of an Andean bear! At present, we’re using camera traps as reconnaissance tools to collect information that will guide our planning for future work. We don’t have enough camera traps yet to collect meaningful scientific data, but we’re seeking funding to initiate a camera trap research effort after the rains lessen, next March or April. Because Andean bears have unique facial markings, we plan to use photos to identify individuals, monitor their movements, and estimate the population size.

Russ Van Horn is a senior researcher at the San Diego Zoo. Read more about his project…