The Death of the Andean Bear 'Gabriel'
By: Armando Castellanos, Director Intag Andean Bear Research Project (FUNDEBO)
Leo and Gabriel were two Andean Bear cubs rescued from the Oyocachi Community (located approximately 3 hours north-east of Quito) on 17 June 2004. The cubs were 'found' shortly after birth by local farmers. They were then kept in an improvised chicken coop (with chickens) for several months. As in the case of Marcia (the recently rescued bear cub - see December Newsletter), the farm owners indicated that the cubs had been abandoned by their mother. However, this is unlikely given that female bears do not easily abandon their cubs. It is much more likely that the female was shot whilst entering or feeding in a nearby cornfield.
The cubs were rescued by FUNDEBO when they were about three months old, and were taken to the Santa Martha Rescue Centre. They were placed in an enclosure with two other bears, Colleen (recently released - see news article) and Beto, a young male bear. The cubs remained in the enclosure for about two and a half years. Gabriel was the dominant male and largest bear of this group.
The enclosure was strongly built. However, over the years the bears weakened the enclosure fences and began to dig at the base of the fences. As such, the bears escaped several times. Rescue Centre staff and volunteers constantly repaired and reinforced the enclosure, but the bears continued in their attempts to escape.
Following the release of Colleen, we decided to construct a new and more secure bear enclosure. However, before this could be undertaken, the bears escaped again. We could only recapture Beto and Leo. Gabriel remained outside the enclosure for 18 days, avoiding Rescue Centre staff and volunteers, making it extremely difficult to recapture him.
On 25 November 2005 (whilst I was in the field), Rescue Centre staff again attempted to recapture Gabriel. As a result, Gabriel became frightened and climbed a nearby tree (a common escape behaviour). FUNDEBO staff fired a dart to immobilize Gabriel to facilitate his recapture. However, Gabriel did not remain in the tree as hoped, but instead became increasingly stressed. He climbed down from the tree and began to run. Immobilization drugs do not take effect immediately, but once the drugs began to take effect, Gabriel went into cardiac arrest and died instantly (this is known as 'capture myopathy').
Naturally, all FUNDEBO staff and volunteers were very upset by Gabriel's death. However, I personally have learnt an important lesson: l will never again attempt to immobilize Andean Bears in this manner.
Given the lack of security and continuous escape of the bears, we are planning to construct a new bear enclosure in the Yanahurco Hacienda. We hope to rehabilitate the bears in this new enclosure. We are currently seeking funds to construct the enclosure and would greatly appreciate your support. Leo, Marcia and Beto will be very grateful!