Only Bear in Town

After heading back down the valley from Antisana with giant hummingbird, Ecuadorian hillstar, black-faced ibis, Andean condor, coot, gull, lapwing, teal, and ruddy duck on my World Lifelist, we headed north, skirting the edge of Quito.

We turned northeast on the road that eventually leads to Amazonian Ecuador. Our destination was Papallacta Pass. Our quarry was one of the eight species of bear in the world and the one species that exists in South America: the Andean or spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus). This is the last of the short-faced bears. They are very tough to see in the wild and are classified as vulnerable due to habitat loss.

We scanned the mountainside to the right as we headed up to the pass. Gustavo instructed me to look for a “large, dark moving bush”. So I did and found nothing among the mountain side. We pulled over and scanned the landscape and the high grasses of the paramo were constantly washing in the Andean winds.

As we climbed towards the pass, we were at 14,000 feet elevation and the fog hemmed in the views and the winds cuts through every layer of clothing I had put on. The cutting winds and the difficulty I had breathing at 14,000 feet above sea level made me happy when we headed into the truck and headed back down the pass towards the capital.

As we drove down the pass, in a westerly direction, Gustavo kept an eye on the mountainside we had just passed on the way up, which was now to our left.

The pass was full of cars and trucks and our side of the road lacked shoulders or pullouts.

We were nearing the end of the valley where the mountainside fell away, when Gustavo said, “There’s something up there!”

He stopped the truck in the middle of the slow lane (must be perfectly acceptable in Ecuador) and we got out and peered at the mountainside.

“See if you can find it?”

I love a good challenge.

It didn’t take long to see the large, moving bush of a bear, foraging on the far mountainside. This bear closed out South American bears for me! It’s hard to see the continent’s one and only bear species and I enjoyed my amazing views in the late afternoon light.

I was a little more concerned with being flatten by a semi speeding down the grade. And I kept one eye on the bear and the other on downhill traffic.

Most trucks and cars swerved around our illegally parked truck (well in the States anyway) but one car slowed and pulled over in front of us. They were ecotourist vultures, coming to feed on our eco find. A couple from the Midwest and their guides exited and the guide inquired, “Bear?”

Gustavo pointed out the dark moving bush to the eco vultures and we now had two scopes on the bear.

Eco Vultures looking at the dark moving-bush.

This was a great sighting to end an incredible time in Ecuador. I end the trip with 331 bird species and one very amazing bear species.

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