CALS Researchers Aid in Andean Bear Conservation

Friday, July 26, 2019
Andean bear cub photographed in the páramo grasslands of Colombia. Photo credit: Angela Parra

In the high Andes of Colombia, Fulbright scholar Ivan Mauricio Vela-Vargas recently directed the first successful capture and satellite collaring of an Andean bear in the Chingaza National Natural Park.

The approximately 6-year-old bear, nicknamed Xué, is a 220-pound adult male in perfect health. Xué was fitted with a telemetry collar with satellite technology that periodically transmits information about his movements in the Chingaza National Natural Park and surrounding areas in the east Andean range of Colombia.

“This is the first successful capture of an Andean bear inside of a protected area in Colombia,” said Vela-Vargas, who is pursuing a Ph.D. through the School of Natural Resources and the Environment in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “The information we are receiving right now will allow us to understand how Andean bears perceive the landscape in the Chingaza Massif and give us new tools for monitoring the species inside and outside of protected areas.”

The only bear species found in South America, the Andean bear has been listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species since 1982. Andean bear conservation transcends the management of a single protected area. The project was a collaboration between the Chingaza National Natural Park, the UA School of Natural Resources and the Environment, ProCAT Colombia, the Wakatá Biopark, the Phoenix Zoo Arizona Center for Nature Conservation and the Reid Park Zoo.

"Collaboration is the key to successful conservation, where the collective efforts of many can be focused on major challenges to biodiversity,” said John Koprowski, director of the School of Natural Resources and the Environment. "Andean bears are icons of the high Andes, but we know little about this declining species. The work that Mauricio is conducting will help fill these knowledge gaps."

 “This is a huge advance in scientific research of the species in the country," said Vela-Vargas, who recently assumed leadership of the Colombian bear research for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “We are constantly receiving information that will allow us to help in the conservation and research of this iconic species for Colombia and South America.”


Rosemary Brandt
Media Relations Manager, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences