The “spectacled” Andean Bear already stands out, thanks to distinctive eyeglass-shaped facial markings and its newfound celebrity status as none other than the movies’ Paddington Bear. Add to that its recent slew of unexpected appearances at South America’s most famous ancient site – the ruins of Machu Picchu – and you might think this shaggy fellow is obsessed with the limelight.
Not so fast. The Andean Bear is notoriously shy—and also vulnerable. As the only bear species native to South America, with habitats extending through Venezuela, Columbia and Peru, the Andean bear population has been depleted in the wild because of farming, mining and other human impacts.
That’s why Dr. Don Neiffer, a nationally recognized Smithsonian veterinarian, applied for Conservation Nation support in 2016. In association with the INKTERRA Machu Picchu Spectacled Bear Project, Dr. Neiffer was part of a team that travelled to the Machu Picchu sanctuary two years in a row to collaborate and educate range country researchers and veterinarians regarding care and conservation of this bear species.
“Capitalizing on the reputation of the Smithsonian, our NZP/SCBI team and our partners at INKATERRA were able to design two workshops that attracted people working with both wild and free-ranging Andean bears in several range countries,” Dr. Neiffer says. “In addition to researchers, veterinarians and animal care staff, government officials and National Park/Reserve managers were in attendance. Having all these decision makers and animal advocates in the same place to exchange ideas and interact is of paramount importance where the long-term sustainability of conservation projects such as this are concerned.“
Dr. Neiffer advised staff about how to monitor, diagnose and treat four resident bears at the sanctuary, hoping that by sharing expertise, the population of bears at INKATERRA might help boost the numbers of this dwindling species in the wild. And the team fostered a sense of collaboration even with those scientists who could not attend, live streaming lectures and giving presentations. By the second year of the project, the number of participants had doubled, showing increased interest in protection efforts for this species.
The Andean Bear Conservation Program in Peru is a perfect example of how our staff can help wildlife and their habitats around the world.—Dr. Don Neiffer