Uncategorized

spectacled bear research

0

Andean Bears: Camera Trappers

Photo of a hind footprint of an Andean bear in the cloud forest of southern Peru.

Photo of a hind footprint of an Andean bear in the cloud forest of southern Peru.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post (see Bear Culture). To be honest, I was waiting until I could include a remote-camera photo of a wild Andean bear! However, people keep asking me about the cameras (see post Andean Bears and Cameras), so I thought I’d provide an update now.

Due to logistical challenges, it took longer than I expected to place the cameras in Peru’s cloud forest last fall. I now understand well why no one’s done this before! However, one issue that I thought might be a challenge turned out to be no challenge at all.

The local people who worked with me to install the cameras in the forest have very little experience with electronic technology, so I wasn’t sure how fast they’d learn to use the cameras. Another challenge for them was that all the buttons on the cameras, and the programming menus, are written in English, which none of them speak or write.

Peruvian field workers with a camera trap in the cloud forest.

Peruvian field workers with a camera trap in the cloud forest.

I’ll admit that at first they didn’t understand what the different programming options were or what the buttons did. Neither did they have any idea of how to prepare a site in the forest for the best chance at obtaining good photos. However, after working with me to install only a few cameras, they were debating with each other, and with me, the fine points of site preparation and camera positioning. “No, it should be turned a little more to the left!” “No, I think it’s very good where it is.” “Use a little stick to raise the bottom – no, not that stick, use one that’s a little thicker.” This was an excellent reminder of something I realized as a child surrounded by older generations who did not have access to higher education: a lack of education does not mean a lack of intelligence.

There were three other promising signs:
- First, these gentlemen kept teasing me about how many bears would be photographed, and what the chances were that all the photos would be of bears’, um, derrieres, and not of their faces.
- Second, as they programmed each new camera installation, team members would look over each other’s shoulder, ready to applaud, and critique. However, each man was careful and thorough, and mastered the process at hand.
- Third, two men encountered a bear on the trail, in broad daylight, about 400 meters (1,300 feet) away from where the rest of us were debating whether we had achieved optimal camera placement. At first I didn’t believe that they had seen a bear, because they had been teasing me so much. However, when we went down the trail, there was no denying the evidence in the mud: fresh tracks of an Andean bear.

The field workers are changing the batteries and memory cards in the cameras every month until I return there in March to begin the next stage of the project. The photos from the first month of operation have been collected, downloaded, and sent to Lima, Peru. However, there are so many photos that they cannot be e-mailed to me! So, I’ll have to wait for a DVD to arrive in the mail. I wonder, I wonder, what is in those photos?

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

0

The Bear Goes over the Mountain

Javier going to great lengths, as usual, to get his job done.

Javier going to great lengths, as usual, to get his job done.

San Diego Zoo researchers are in Peru to study Andean (or spectacled) bears. Read a previous post, To See A Bear.

We awake in the predawn twilight, rouse ourselves out of our sleeping bags, down some coffee, and head for the viewpoint, hoping to spot last night’s bear making the ascent back up from the waterhole. José begins to gesticulate wildly, pointing to a dark form moving slowly up the face of the cliff.

Through the binoculars I can make out the white spectacles surrounding the eyes and see his powerful forelimbs reaching out to gain purchase in some crevice or ledge. He stops at a large boulder and uses his huge claws to pry out a few snails, precious morsels of protein in this resource-limited landscape. Then, he is on the move again and, before I know it, he is at the top of the cliff, some 1,500 feet above the waterhole, and he disappears over the ridge.

The rough trails take their toll…on my boots. José does makeshift repairs on my boot after the sole was ripped off by the treacherous terrain. Boots last less than 6 months here—just one of the difficulties endured by this dedicated field team.

The rough trails take their toll…on my boots. José does makeshift repairs on my boot after the sole was ripped off by the treacherous terrain. Boots last less than 6 months here—just one of the difficulties endured by this dedicated field team.

Most bears are good climbers, but spectacled bears move more nimbly and quickly over steep terrain than any other animal I have ever seen. This ascent, taking just a few minutes, would take a person the better part of a day…with ropes. This opportunity to witness this bear’s remarkable athleticism is another reminder of just how well adapted these bears are to this rugged and challenging landscape. Fortunately, this ruggedness keeps this wilderness relatively remote from the impacts of nearby humans. But for how long?

Robyn points out the paths traversed by bears, and the way we will return.

Robyn points out the paths traversed by bears, and the way we will return.

The juxtaposition of this majestic wilderness so close to an expanding human population motivates Robyn’s team to do something, and fast. See post, Andean Bear Collaboration. This is why they are working with the local communities and government officials to try to raise awareness of this situation and, hopefully, bring some protection. This is also why we at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research are joining this noble effort.

We spend a couple more days exploring the habitats of these remarkable bears before descending back down the mountain and back to civilization, and the welcome comfort of a shower and a bed. The end of an adventure, but the beginning of a collaboration we hope to continue for years to come. Understanding these bears, and finding ways to protect them, will require a long-term commitment.

Ron Swaisgood is director of Applied Animal Ecology for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.