One of Loja, Ecuador's many charming quirks is a tendency for random fireworks to explode into the night sky. This happens every night for no reason that I can detect... and we're talking enormous, Krupp-guns-in-Belgium caliber explosives here. Whoop! The house Cocker Spaniel is going ballistic.
A large part of the student cohort from the University of Idaho headed to Vilcabamba (a local city famous for the oldest, healthiest people in Ecuador and for weird, shammanic plants. Periodically, a Dutch tourist will disappear for months and re-emerge with mold on his knickers.
I- on the other hand- spent the day with Haley Egan and Meghan Camp (Idaho students) and Rodrigo Cisneros, a good friend and professor from the Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja (UTPL).
We're evaluating methods for assessing Andean Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) home range and movement patterns- using both radio collars and DNA analysis. As a consequence, we need to chase after things like hair, saliva and poo. Sort of C.S.I. for the crunchies.
Today, we were assessing a gorgeous watershed near Loja (La Madrigal) as a possible field site.
There are two students working on this particular project. Meghan (on the left above) is a graduate student who's long time focus is on Pygmy Rabbits. In the photo, she's huffing some Ecuadorian sage- sage, of course, being the plant that shelters and nurtures Pygmy Rabbits.
Haley, on the right, is giving her very first tube of Andean Bear scat a swirly. Note the gorgeous expanse of Loja sprawling out in the background.
Our fearless leader Rodrigo (AKA 'The Iron Sheik') took us on a 5 mile trek along the rim of the watershed, navigating through cloud forest and Paramo (high Andean shrub-steppe with incredible biodiversity). Loads, reams of bear sign- in particular scat and acres of massacred bromeliad plants (Andean Bears eat bromeliads like cane sugar).
Lest the idyllic aspect fool you, note the nasty, fat-bellied cloud cruising in on the left. The Paramo is not a dry place- in fact, Kenai Fjords National Park is the only place I've been that compares in terms of pure, unadulterated slop.
I've tried every permutation of rain-gear under the sun, and nothing keeps your dry when you're bushwhacking through six-foot brush in a 50-degree monsoon. Your choices are: wear Helly Hanson and get soaked from the inside, or wear Gore-Tex and watch your $200-investment mimic a sarong made of mosquito netting. As you can see, I chose the former today. Behold the world's first walking, self-regulating sauna.
Even the deluge must take an occasional break, however. We had time to enjoy an errant sunbeam and grab some chewed bromeliad stems. The way that bears eat (all gums and indiscriminate spittle) there ought to be some saliva on those beauties. We're hoping to loot some DNA from the wad in the picture- if we can, it may be a useful tool for tracking one of South America's most cryptic species.
Great Day. Hasta luego!