Endangered Mammals of Podocarpus National Park

Located in the Ecuadorian provinces of Loja and Zamora Chinchipe, the Podocarpus National Park was created in 1982 as a protected area and is a haven to a host of mammals, birds and other creatures, as well as a wide variety of flora, including the national tree of Ecuador, the spectacular Cinchona. Of the forty mammal species found in the park, four are noted as being vulnerable or endangered – the Mountain Tapir, Spectacled Bear, Northern Pudu and the Jaguar.

As the smallest of the tapir species, the Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) has a thick black or dark brown woolly coat and distinctive white lips, making it easy to identify. They are found in the cloud forests and alpine tundra ecosystems, referred to as páramo, in the Central and Eastern Cordilleras mountains stretching through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru’s far north regions. As herbivores, Mountain Tapirs eat a wide variety of plants and serve an important role in seed dispersal via their digestive systems. They are quite territorial, marking their territories and fighting to maintain them.

Also known as the Andean Bear, the Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is the only bear found in South America. With its thick dark coat, ranging from jet black to dark brown, the spectacled bear has beige colored markings which often, but not always, resemble spectacles around its eyes. Each bear has unique markings which can be used to identify individual animals. As arboreal mammals, Spectacled Bears use their ability to climb even the tallest trees in their environment as a means to escape predatory humans. The only other predators Spectacled Bears have are Cougars and Jaguars, which generally only attack cubs, not full-grown bears.

Along with the Southern Pudú, which is found in southern Chile and southwestern Argentina, the Northern Pudú is the world’s smallest deer. Found in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, the Northern Pudú (Pudu mephistophiles) is between 32 and 35 cm tall at the shoulder, and around 85 cm long, weighing between 3.3 and 6 kg. As herbivores, Pudús eat a wide variety of foliage and fallen fruit, and are quite ingenious in their methods of reaching tasty foliage on higher branches. Due to over-hunting and habitat loss, both species of Pudú are considered to be vulnerable.

The strikingly beautiful Jaguar is the only Panthera species to be found in the Americas, and sadly is facing extinction. Its main threats are poachers who kill them for their skin and other body parts considered valuable by some, as well as habitat loss and fragmentation of habitat. They are also killed by farmers protecting their livestock. Jaguars prefer living in dense rainforest, but are sometimes found in open terrain, particularly close to water. Jaguars are solitary and elusive creatures, but visitors to the Podocarpus National Park may just be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of one.