First by motorbike and later on foot, Robyn Appleton spent months in Peru’s dry forest looking for spectacled bears. Without seeing so much as a paw print, it looked like she might not be in bear country after all. Until finally, at last… Robyn saw one far in the distance. Appearing as a tiny black dot moving along the face of an enormous vertical rock wall, this bear was rock climbing, and moving steadily in Robyn’s direction. Hours later, it was only a few yards away.
Long and lean, with extended claws for climbing cliffs, this spectacled bear, whom Robyn named Laura, would be the foremother to nearly everything the Spectacled Bear Conservation (SBC) team would learn about the species’ behavior, biology, and habitat. The only bear species in South America, and highly endangered, spectacled bears are extremely rare; by observing Laura, Robyn began to understand why there were so few bears left. It wasn’t poaching or pollution that was their primary threat, it was starvation.
Spectacled bears have an extremely limited diet, with only two or three things on the menu; the most important of which is a fruit called sapote. Extensive habitat loss, largely from agricultural pressures had all but eviscerated the sapote. Without sapote the bears become emaciated, their cubs can’t survive, and the females don’t go into estrus, and their breeding is halted. Laura lost three of her cubs to this famine. Watching this happen was heartbreaking for Robyn, but it showed her what needed to be done to save these bears.
Cutting right to the heart of the problem, SBC established a conservation plan to protect bears and the indispensable sapote; a dual focus on using scientific research to learn about the bears and the resources they need to be healthy, and building partnerships with the local people who can help restore and protect bear habitat. By improving the quality of life of local people and helping to foster their pride and enthusiasm for bears, SBC is building a way forward for bears to once again thrive, healthy and well-fed, in a home full of sapote.
Learn more about what Spectacled Bear Conservation is doing to protect spectacled bears in Peru.