Spectacled bears—also known as Andean bears—are named for the markings around their eyes that give them the appearance of wearing glasses. They are the only bear species found in South America and have left a cultural mark as the inspiration behind the popular Paddington Bear series of children’s books. Little is known about this elusive bear and while the mystery surrounding them may add to its mystique, it does little to further its conservation. Lack of knowledge about these bears considerably compromises the conservation management for the species.
This rare, charismatic bear is highly endangered, primarily due to habitat fragmentation that has caused bears to lose access to critical feeding areas. Although this bear is generally found in humid, alpine cloud forests, Spectacled Bear Conservation (SBC) discovered a population of more then 65 bears in the low elevation dry forest, providing a unique opportunity to observe these bears in the wild. Spectacled Bear Conservation has been able to characterize critical aspects of the bear’s biology and reproduction to identify their habitat needs and other factors impacting their conservation. SBC also works closely with the communities that live in and around bear habitat to build local people’s pride in conservation and introduce alternative behaviors that are less detrimental to the ecosystem.
“We can prevent starvation and the suffering of spectacled bears by protecting their habitat and engaging local villages in conservation.”
A Unique Conservation Approach
Spectacled Bear Conservation combines scientific rigor, passion, and countless field days to fill the vast gaps in knowledge about this species. They use GPS satellite collars, remote cameras, and direct behavioral observation to study these enigmatic bears to better understand their needs. In fact, they were the first to conduct an observation study in the wild and fit a bear with a GPS collar in Peru. They’ve already made several key discoveries, including unlocking some of the very first secrets about how the bears care for their young in such an extreme environment.
Working with Local Communities
No one knows the Peruvian mountains better than those who were born and raised there, and no one is more effective at spreading the conservation message than the local communities. SBC works with local people to provide conservation education, which spreads awareness about the bears throughout their communities. In 2010, SBC opened the Conservation Center of Batán Grande, for local conservationists and educators to use. SBC’s Forest Guardian Program empowers local women to earn a livelihood through the art of dry wool needle felting; women craft hand-made felt bears to sell, which supports them with a fair and competitive stable income.
Vast swathes of forested bear habitat have been destroyed for agriculture and drug trafficking. Habitat from the lowest to the highest elevation has become extremely fragmented and grazing cattle has further destroyed remaining parcels of land. Creating national and community protected areas is the key to ensuring there is sufficient bear habitat. Using data received by collaring bears, SBC was able to design a 32,000 acre park—El Parque Arqueológico y Ecológico de Batán Grande—which protects a small, but viable bear population. SBC hopes to one day connect the park with another local ecological protected area, creating an even wider corridor of space for spectacled bears.
new wild bears identified in a new habitat in 2015
bears that have been collared and tracked by SBC
Born in western Canada, Robyn always had a love for nature and particularly bears. In 2003, she began her graduate work on black bears but after attending a couple of bear research conferences she realized almost nothing was known about spectacled bears. She quickly fell in love with this curious and charismatic species and became determined to try and help ensure their survival. In 2006 she moved to Peru and met animal tracker and ex-hunter Javier Vallejos. Together they discovered a viable bear population in the critically endangered dry forest of northern Peru. Shortly thereafter, she founded Spectacled Bear Conservation. Today, Robyn and her incredible field team continue to improve our knowledge of these shy animals through rigorous scientific research on spectacled bear biology, behavior, and habitat needs.
How You Can Help
$50 Will train one local women in the art of dry needle felting. SBC’s felti program employs, educates, and empowers women and funds conservation.
$ 500 Will purchase one camera trap used to identify new bears and new species to the area as well as monitor existing populations.
$750 Fully outfits an SBC field team member with all the equipment needed for a multi day backcountry scouting and research trips looking for new bear habitat, and monitoring current camera traps.
$5,000 Funds one team in the field monitoring known bears and exploring unknown bear habitat for a month.
When you designate your donation to a specific species, 100% of your donation will go directly to the field to support this species.
The air was thick with smoke as the fire quickly closed in, before long Jose Vallejos would be trapped. Wildfires aren’t common in Peru, so he was surprised by how easily the wind carried the flames and how intensely they devoured the forest. Jose spotted a tree outside the fire-line, seizing the opportunity he climbed up and over it, escaping to a safe patch of land. Normally Jose spends his days as a spectacled bear conservationist with Robyn Appleton and Spectacled Bear Conservation (SBC), but for six weeks last winter, he was a firefighter.