Science and Research
We are making exciting progress towards filling gaps in the scientific knowledge about the spectacled bear. These gaps considerably compromise conservation management for this charismatic species and its habitats. Through the use of several emerging technologies—such as GPS satellite collars, remote cameras, and remote video surveillance—we propose to address many of these knowledge gaps in a long term study. We have begun characterizing critical aspects of the bear’s biology, including foraging, mating, dispersal, and reproductive ecology, with the goal of identifying habitat needs, limiting resources, and other factors impacting conservation management strategies.
Despite progress in recent decades in assessing the distribution and status of spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus) throughout their range, many fundamental aspects of their life history and movement ecology remain relatively unknown. This makes it difficult to develop meaningful conservation plans for the species. The typically shy nature of spectacled bears and the cloud forest habitat they usually inhabit pose major challenges to field study. As a result, most field work has focused on bear sign surveys, interviews and, more recently, collection of genetic samples such as hair.
In the mountain foothills of north coastal Peru, spectacled bears inhabit a dry forest habitat that provides a unique and perhaps unparalleled opportunity for observational study. The relatively open terrain provides visibility during most months of the year, conditions are favourable for the detection and persistence of bear sign, and the arid environment concentrates bear activity around infrequent water holes. In their most recent assessment of the status of spectacled bears, the IUCN/SSC Bear Specialist Group identified “unique and endangered habitats occupied by bears such as desert habitat” as a priority for study.
Helping to increase the scientific knowledge about the elusive spectacled bear and its environment is an important part of what we do, and the foundation of our conservation work. An important part of the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society Society’s philosophy is that conservation programs should be based on good science. However to do this we have trained local people in research methods, to conduct conservation outreach, and to further build conservation capacity by training and mentoring students. Parabiologist training is essential to our work because it is a primary mechanism for engaging the local communities, carrying the conservation message further than is possible by outsiders to the community.
Our conservation science program is designed to tackle several research questions relevant to bear conservation. The following research objectives will be addressed at both sites:
• Spatial ecology and habitat protection. One of our main objectives is to use GPS satellite collars and camera traps to track bears’ movements and determine how they move through space and use habitats. We will obtain location data several times a day for multiple bears simultaneously. Animal movement patterns determine how large a reserve needs to be to sustain a population of bears.
• Population census—We will use and compare three different methodologies to estimate populations, with a key goal being the identification of the most reliable and cost-effective means for population monitoring over larger areas.
• Mating strategy—We will seek to characterize the mating patterns of spectacled bears through behavioral observation and genetic paternity analysis. Mating patterns can determine the genetic viability of small, isolated populations.
• Critical limiting resources. Studies of foraging resources will help determine how many bears an area can support, and which resources should be enhanced to sustain bears. Studies of denning ecology—including factors such as distance to water, nearby foraging opportunities, human disturbance, and the thermal and protective qualities of the den –will help determine whether an area contains enough suitable den sites.