The Alto Choco Reserve
Botanical Garden
Bear Enclosure
Andean Bear Illustration

The Alto Choco Reserve is located in the Intag Zone of the Imbabura Province, Northern Ecuador. It is part of the South american CHOCO biological region, which is one of the ten biologically most important zones (hotspot) in the world according to international organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and the World Bank.
The Reserve has diverse altitudinal levels, ranging from 1.800 to 4.000 m with temperatures that range between 5 and 23º centigrade. The Reserve covers 2.750 hectares, about 1.500 of which are comprised of cloud forest, the remaining areas are secondary forest, paramo and pastures. To the northeast the Reserve borders the Gubernamental Ecological Reserve Cotacahi-Cayapas which encompasses 204,429 hectares.
The reserve has a wide variety of fauna including Andean (spectacled) bears (Tremarctos ornatus), Dwarf deer (Pudu mephistophiles), Andean tapir (Tapirus pinchaque), Giant antpitta (Grallaria gigantea), Plate-billed mountain toucan (Andigena laminirostris) and the Cock of the rock (Rupicola peruviana). There is a great diversity of plants, especially orchids and native forest species such as the Cascarilla (Cinchona succirubra), Arrayán (Eugenia sp.), and Sisin (Podocarpus sp.).        
The seasons are not defined but can be described as a very rainy season from february to may, a rainy season from october to january and a dry season from june to september.

Social context

Ecuador's Intag region has a high percentage of indigenous peoples (39%) and a high level of poverty (88%) making the region amongst the poorest in Ecuador. The local population also have less access to education and health care than in other areas, with 33% lacking any education.

Pressures on the environment

In the past there is a threat to the environment from the state and mining companies wishing to exploit the area's mineral resources. In 1997 and 2006 the Japanese multinational "Bishimetal" a subsidiary of Mitsubishi (Japan) undertook a geological inspection in Junin. This inspection was endorsed by the Ecuadorian Ministry for Mines and Energy inside of transitorians periods of differents presidents of the country. Then the multinational Ascendant Mining Corporation was now attempting to exploit the mineral resources in the area specialty for cupper, specialty for cupper disregarding views of the local population and the adverse effect upon the rapidly diminishing primary forest. Actually the project sleep unexecution stage.
According to Dodson and Gentry (1991) of the approximately 80.000 kilometers of forest that originally covered north western Ecuador, barely 6% remains. These forests are particularly precious for their high levels of endemism. The western slopes of the Andes have even more endemic species than tropical forests in the lowlands (Balslev, 1998).
As Dinnerstein et al (1995) state these forests are of such outstanding global importance that they are categorized as having the highest global protection priority.


Projects at Alto Choco

Botanical Garden

On the Alto Choco Reserve a Botanical Garden has been built which displays representative flora of the zone with special emphasis on the extraordinary orchids. The goal of this area is to:

  • Construct a center for in-situ and ex-situ conservation of plants native and endemic to the region, especially those with economic potential and endangered species
  • Create a Center for Botanic Research to conduct a floral inventory and to study native and endemic plants of the Northeast Region of Ecuador
  • Maintain an Environmental Education Center to interpret the relationships and interdependence of these organisms and the environment to change the attitudes of the people of the area and increase their regard for nature
  • Construct a Center for assessing the need for forest, reforestation and beautification of farms, communities and other sites
  • Create a Center for the organization and execution of practical and theoretical workshops and courses in eco-tourism, ecology, botany, citizenship, etc.
  • Tourism, Recreational, and Cultural Center - these activities will be carried out using the infrastructure and facilities developed for this project in harmony with the Garden and collection of native and exotic plants.
Management Plan for the Alto Choco Reserve and Surrounding Areas

With the participation of the communities of Santa Rosa, Cazarpamba and Irubí a Management Plan for the Alto Choco Reserve has been developed. This plan is intended to guide the management action of the Reserve with priority on economic development for the communities.


Spectacled andean Bear Research at Alto Choco

The project at Alto Choco was part of ongoing work to save the Spectacled bear . The project was directed by Rodrigo Pineda and was based at the Alto Choco Reserve (although the bears do not respect Reserve boundaries and are often located in surrounding areas).


The Spectacled Bear is the only bear living in South America. It is found in a narrow strip running from western Venezuela through the Andes in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, and ending in Northern Argentina. It is a ¨vulnerable¨ species, endangered mostly by habitat fragmentation caused by livestock farming and logging. In the past, shooting these bears was common although this activity is now illegal.
The bears are omnivorous, but eat mostly suro (one kind of bamboo), bromeliads and fruits. They will kill and eat small animals and there have been incidents of bears attacking cows in other parts of Ecuador. The males are about twice as big as females, reaching 1.3 – 2.1 meters (4´4¨ to 6´8¨) standing upright and weighting 130-180 Kg (285 - 400pounds  ).
We don’t know much about their reproduction in the wild. Females in captivity begin to reproduce around 4 to 5 years of age. The gestation period varies from 160 to 255 days and they have 1 to 4 babies at a time, usually 2. Cubs are about 18 cm (7 inches) and weigh about 300-500 grams (10-17 ounces). They open their eyes at about 42 days and 3 months from birth they can follow their mothers. The male adults occasionally accompany the family group but this is unusual. Cubs accompany their mothers for more than a year.
Spectacled Bear are very timid and are afraid of people. There has never been a report of a Spectacled Bear attacking a person. If they see you they will turn around and run or climb the nearest tree.
They are very good swimmers. They can jump from tree to the ground when cornered. They have a very sensitive sense of smell but their vision is not very good. They communicate by sound. They also make scratch marks on trees, tear off bark and scratch their backs on certain types of trees. Any of these behaviors could also be a type of communication.
The Andean Bear is relatively solitary but there have been reports of a number of bears eating in a cornfield or consuming a carcass. They make long journeys using paths generally located on mountain peaks.
Click here to download an information sheet about the Spectacled bear


In the past, the project reintroduced 7 captive bears to the wild: four here at Alto Choco and three at the Maquipicuna Reserve. These reintroduction programs are finished, and we are not tracking any of the reintroduced bears now.
The purpose of the project was part of one research is to learn about activity patterns and use of habitat by wild bears. This data can then be compared with that collected from the reintroduced bears. The information learned about the bears in this research will improve future rehabilitation projects both here in Ecuador and throughout South America. The project was staffed by three professionals who supervised the work of volunteers.
This research was conducted using direct methods. Four wild bears (three females and one male) have been collared with radio telemetry devices. The researchers tried to catch a couple more. Researchers learnt about diet from excrement and recorded marking behavior. However, they did not rely on reading signs (tracks, scratches, and marks) to draw conclusions about the bears` activity. Instead, they measured the actual location and activity of each bear.
We tracked activity patterns by listening to the signals from the collars. It was simply active or inactive. It did not tell us what kind of activity the bear was engaging in or whether it was moving from place to place. The collar would register active if the bear is moving her head, scratching, shaking, eating, etc.
We tracked location by taking bearings from specific stations, which were located by GPS. Using mapping software it was possible to triangulate to determine the exact location of the animal. We could tell the specific types of habitats used by the bears, as well as those not chosen, by comparing this data with a satellite image of the area. Thus we could learn their preferences by analyzing the choices made. We could also measure the Home Range and Core Area of each bear.
Actually the Reserve mainteining activities scheduled to give corn crops (feed) to the normal wild bear population. It give us the opportunity to observate and registrate with the volunteers, activities of the local wild animal population .
Long Term Goals

Foundation Zoobreviven works closely with surrounding communities to identify community needs, bring needed services to the communities and create economic opportunities. At the same time, the Foundation has ongoing environmental education projects to reduce hostility toward the bears and increase the value of the bears in the minds of local residents.

The Foundation is also working with other local NGOs to expand protected areas in the vicinity of the Reserve. By learning more about the wild bears this research will help conservationists make better decisions regarding which territories should be protected, as well as improving future reintroduction projects.
These strategies together will maximize the chances that these bears can continue living in the mountains that they have always called home.