I recently spent several days in the dry forest of Lambayeque in Peru working with our collaborator Robyn Appleton and her field crew from the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society and with Dr. Meg Sutherland-Smith, a veterinarian from the San Diego Zoo. Our goals were to reinforce and enhance the field crew’s training in bear immobilization and, with luck, to illustrate everything by immobilizing a female Andean (or spectacled) bear and placing a GPS collar on her. The field crew had recently discovered the den at which a female bear (Pepa) had given birth. This is the fourth den found at this field site, and only the fifth ever described of wild Andean bears (one den was recently discovered in the cloud forest of Ecuador).
Because the cub was still quite young and not able to walk very well or very far, the mother bear was not moving very much in the weeks just before we arrived. However, by the time we were all assembled in the field and ready to go, so were the mother and cub. The cub was able to walk well enough that the two bears moved through terrain that was too steep for a safe immobilization. Rather than risk injury to the bear or the field crew, we decided to wait for a better opportunity in the future. Maybe we’ll have better luck next time!
Although we did not deploy another GPS collar during our visit, we did conduct training, and we did see bears every day from our clifftop overlook. We watched the female bear Laura using different routes to walk to and from one of the few permanent waterholes and walk up incredibly steep cliffs to feed on large land snails. We also watched Pepa eat snails and cactus while her cub complained that they were walking too much and nap in the shade on beds of vegetation that Pepa pulled together.
From where we were camped it was only a few meters to a rock outcrop from which we could look over a valley and see farms and villages along the river below. I’m half-deaf, so I couldn’t hear the noises of the villages below: the music on Friday and Saturday nights and the chickens and donkeys in the mornings. I could see, though, that there’s a risk that human development spreading from the river valley will isolate one mountain range from another, turning them into isolated islands of habitat. I think our work in the new protected area (Archeological-Ecological Park of Batán Grande) will prevent this from happening. If we succeed at this, I won’t mind that we didn’t put a collar on Pepa.