In It for the Long Haul

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Robyn and Javier sit in a blind near a waterhole, waiting for an opportunity to dart and collar an Andean bear.

Russ is studying wild Andean (or spectacled) bears in the Lambayeque region of Peru and sharing his adventures with us. Read his previous post, What a Difference Rain Makes.

By the time this is posted online, I’ll be back in San Diego. On my last full day in the field this trip, I went with Robyn Appleton and Javier Vallejos from the Spectacled Bear Conservation (SBC) team to wait at the nearest waterhole. Frogs were calling, flycatchers were building a nest, and bears were walking around…somewhere. At least, I assume bears were walking around in the study area, but none came near the waterhole where we waited.

Although we’d hoped that we would be rapidly successful as we tried to collar bears, we knew we were constrained by the weather and by what we understand about the bears’ movements. It’s a difficult paradox: it would be easier to collar bears if we knew how they used their habitat, but collaring the bears is our best method for gaining that knowledge!

This nearly-permanent waterhole is in the foothills of the Cerro Venado study site.

I’m confident that the SBC team will be able to place the rest of the collars on bears, but it’s going to take a lot of patience and more time in the field than I have right now. In the meantime, Robyn and I were able to make plans for future work, which is a definite achievement; it can be difficult to discuss research plans when one person is in the sunny dry forest and the other person is in the foggy cloud forest, and cell-phone coverage is only a dream.

On my way back through Lima, I hope to meet with a collaborator and receive a disc of remote camera photos from southern Peru. You may have heard that torrential rains have caused flooding near the historic site of Machu Picchu, and that thousands of people were airlifted to safety. Well, the same storm systems dumped a lot of rain in the area where our remote cameras are deployed, and rising rivers have washed out bridges and sections of road. Some of the damage was along parts of the Interoceanic Highway (see post Studying Bears in Peru) that were not yet completed, but damage also occurred on footpaths and small bridges in more remote areas. As far as I know, none of my friends or colleagues were injured, but just as in the dry forest of northern Peru, weather conditions constrain the pace of fieldwork. I was hoping to return to Cusco soon, but if the rains continue and ground travel into the area is impossible, I may have to rethink my schedule.

Oh well, we will get the job done…sooner or later!

Russ Van Horn is a senior researcher with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.