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Andean bears are reg­u­lar vis­i­tors of his­toric Machu Picchu

pub­lished 29 Jan­u­ary 2017 | mod­i­fied 29 Jan­u­ary 2017

Andean bears at Machu PicchuA recent wildlife sur­vey led by SER­NANP (Ser­vi­cio Nacional de Áreas Nat­u­rales Pro­te­gi­das por el Estado) and WCS (Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety) in the His­toric Sanc­tu­ary of Machu Pic­chu in Peru has con­firmed that the world-​famous site is also home to a bio­log­i­cally impor­tant and iconic species: the Andean bear (Tremarc­tos ornatus).

Funded by the Andean Bear Con­ser­va­tion Alliance, the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tional Devel­op­ment, and the Gor­don and Betty Moore Foun­da­tion, the year-​long sur­vey revealed the pres­ence of Andean bears in more than 95 per­cent of the 368 km2 study area, which includes the famous Incan ruins of Machu Pic­chu, one of the most vis­ited places in South Amer­ica. While it was pre­vi­ously known that Andean bears existed in the sanc­tu­ary, the new survey’s find­ings reveal a much wider pres­ence of bears through­out the pro­tected area.

Video of Andean bear walk­ing among Machu Pic­chu ruins in late 2016

(Credit: Min­istry of Cul­ture Peru)

The His­toric Sanc­tu­ary of Machu Pic­chu is clas­si­fied as a World Her­itage site by UNESCO (the United Nations Edu­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific, and Cul­tural Orga­ni­za­tion) and is one of only 35 sites world­wide listed as a mixed nat­ural and cul­tural site. The find­ings from this sur­vey are crit­i­cal for estab­lish­ing a base­line for future assess­ments and to plan for the long-​term con­ser­va­tion of Andean bears both within and beyond the sanctuary.

It is amaz­ing that this world famous loca­tion is also impor­tant habi­tat for Andean bears
Dr. Isaac Gold­stein, Coor­di­na­tor of WCS’s Andean Bear Program »

The results of the sur­vey will help us to under­stand the needs of this species and how to man­age Andean bears in this loca­tion,” Gold­stein added.

With a range stretch­ing from Venezuela to Bolivia, the Andean bear inhab­its the mist-​shrouded mon­tane forests and upland grass­lands of the Andes Moun­tains and is South America’s only native bear species. The Andean bear is some­times called the spec­ta­cled bear due to yel­low­ish or white patches that sur­round its eyes. The species fea­tures promi­nently in the cul­tural fab­ric of the region, yet much is still unknown about the behav­iour and ecol­ogy of the Andean bear.

Manu NuevoMap of His­toric Sanc­tu­ary of Machu Pic­chu and Andean bear dis­tri­b­u­tion.
Credit: Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Society.

The sur­vey results also show that the Andean bears of Machu Pic­chu are not an iso­lated pop­u­la­tion, but part of a much larger pop­u­la­tion con­nected by mon­tane grass­lands that occur at 3,400 metres above sea level. Under­stand­ing this con­nec­tiv­ity will help wildlife man­agers to main­tain the cor­ri­dors needed for healthy bear pop­u­la­tions. The sur­vey itself is part of a larger effort by SER­NANP and its part­ners to mon­i­tor Andean bears across the Machu Picchu-​Choquequirao Land­scape, a large moun­tain­ous region con­tain­ing both arche­o­log­i­cal sites and nat­ural areas.

Machu PicchuField­work to col­lect data on the pres­ence of Andean bears in the His­toric Sanc­tu­ary of Machu Pic­chu was con­ducted between August 2014 and Sep­tem­ber 2015. A team of more than 30 trained researchers and park offi­cials looked for signs of bears in a vari­ety of habi­tats in the Machu Pic­chu pro­tected area, rang­ing from Andean rain­for­est to mon­tane grass­lands. The study area was divided into sec­tions of 16 km2 in size (the typ­i­cal size of a female Andean bear’s range) to eval­u­ate the bear’s pres­ence in the pro­tected area. Researchers looked for bear activ­ity such as scat, foot­prints, and signs of feed­ing on ter­res­trial bromeli­ads (plants native to trop­i­cal and sub­trop­i­cal regions) along 166 kilo­me­tres of tran­sects through­out the sanctuary.

Mon­i­tor­ing of the Andean bear in the His­toric Sanc­tu­ary of Machupic­chu

In addi­tion to find­ing signs of bears in most of the sanc­tu­ary, the research team also deter­mined that the pres­ence of cat­tle is a poten­tial risk to Andean bears in the sanc­tu­ary. The sur­vey results will help inform the effec­tive man­age­ment of the His­toric Sanc­tu­ary of Machu Pic­chu, the most vis­ited pro­tected area in Peru.

WCS has con­tributed to exten­sive research on the eco­log­i­cal needs of the Andean bear through­out its range. In 2014, WCS pub­lished the doc­u­ment “Andean Bear Pri­or­ity Con­ser­va­tion Units in Bolivia and Peru” that con­sol­i­dated infor­ma­tion from 25 Andean bear experts on the dis­tri­b­u­tion of the species and rec­om­men­da­tions for con­ser­va­tion. In the U.S.A., WCS’s Queens Zoo is home to the only Andean bear exhibit in New York City. Queens Zoo Direc­tor and Cura­tor Scott Sil­ver serves as Coor­di­na­tor for the Andean Bear Species Sur­vival Plan (SSP), a coop­er­a­tive breed­ing pro­gramme admin­is­tered by the Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoos and Aquar­i­ums that ensures genetic vari­abil­ity within accred­ited zoo pop­u­la­tions. The Andean bear is clas­si­fied as Vul­ner­a­ble by the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species.

(Source: WCS news release, 26.01.2017)

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