Azul the rescued Andean bear will soon return to live amongst the clouds

 As I stand among the clouds surveying the future home for Azul I’m reminded of how far he has come since he was released from his chains and ropes and how bright his future will be.It is one thing to talk about Andean bears living in the “cloud forests” of Ecuador, but it’s another thing to actually experience it in person – it really is in the clouds!

Huffing and puffing because of the extreme altitude (12,000 feet above sea level), we made our way up to look at the desolate but beautiful future release site for "Azul".

Eight month-old Azul is one of three orphaned Andean bears presently in rehabilitation at the Andean Bear Conservation Project (ABCP) in Ecuador. Azul and his two enclosure mates, "Mazhavito" and "Sugaua", are important survivors of a species vulnerable to extinction.

Andean bears – also called spectacled bears because the white markings on their faces make them look like they’re wearing glasses – are the only surviving example of the once-common “short faced” bears. They're also the only bear in South America and are quickly falling prey to habitat loss and poaching. Andean bears are listed on Appendix 1 of CITES (IUCN Status: Vulnerable).

Azul as he is today. Credit: ABCP

So it’s incredibly important to rescue and rehabilitate these little orphaned bears and release them back into protected areas within the Andes Mountains. The ABCP does this in a remarkably successful way and so I recently visited the project to see for myself the wonderful work they are doing.  Azul’s sad story was told to me like this:

“On February 1, 2013, Armando Castellanos [ABCP President] was alerted by an official of the Chimborazo Wildlife Reserve (RPFC) that his rangers had seized a young bear found tethered in a community in the province of Bolivar, Ecuador. 

Armando and his team drove through heavy rain and thick fog, arriving at the ranger station of the RPFC long after dark. The wildlife veterinarian first had to immobilize the little bear to remove the heavy chains and ropes that had been used to hold him captive before he could make an initial assessment of the bear’s health.

The rescue team noted that the bear was severely malnourished, weak and had a potentially serious injury to one eye. They believe that had he not been confiscated and rescued, he would have soon died. 

Initially, this young rescued bear was overwhelmed with the rapid changes to his life and refused to eat or drink.

He was too weak to climb onto a platform even one meter off the ground and was terrified of people as well as the other two young bears at our sanctuary.

With careful attention to his medical needs and a good diet Azul has since grown stronger daily and his appetite is enormous as he now enjoys a variety of foods including bromeliads and avocados.

He is quite wild and has a deep abiding distrust of humans which will serve him well when he is a free bear again.”

As I stand among the clouds surveying the future home for Azul I’m reminded of how far he has come since he was released from his chains and ropes and how bright his future will be.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare will support this work as it does its other bear rehabilitation projects around the world with an operational grant, helping to ensure that Azul and other Andean bears are assured of a fitting life in the clouds.

--GA

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