Finding my way to Andean bears

Everything began with a presentation about Andean bears in Lima in 1996. I was a kid, and I was left with an unforgettable impression of Andean bears: the place they lived, the distinctive white marks in their faces, and their preference to eat fruit. I was also struck by the loss of their habitat and the illegal trade that was affecting the bear population in Peru.

Back then I wondered: how could it be possible? How could a big bear like the Andean bear, that we don’t know much about, be in so much danger? But I was too young to find the answers.

In my third year in the college of Biological Science at Ricardo Palma University, I was considering doing my thesis research on Andean bears, because after all these years, I was still concerned about their conservation. But, unfortunately I was told that Andean bear research was not worthy of my time because “Everything about Andean bear was already known”.

But I was undeterred, and I continued to look for the opportunity to work with wildlife. I got involved in diverse volunteering projects: a park ranger in a montane forest, and then in a research project with macaws in the rainforest. With this work, I learned that to study fauna, I had to observe better, to listen better, and to be more patient.

And more importantly, this diverse experience helped me strengthen my interest in studying Andean bears.

Finally, I was able to conduct my first research project on Andean bears, and the focus was on their diet in the mountains of Piura, a region in northwestern Peru. It was during this research that I had my first bear encounter.

While I was hiking up a hill, I looked up, and saw a big bear eating bromeliads. Once it realized that I was there, it stopped eating and sniffed the air for my scent. I could not believe my luck to see such a beautiful animal, it made me incredibly happy to think that after all this time, I was finally seeing the bear that made such an impression on me as a child.

During the research I realized that diet was only the first step to understand the role of Andean bear in the ecosystem, and there were many more questions to explore. I realized that not only was there not “everything already known” about Andean bears, but that actually very little was known, as it was when I was a child.

That made me realize that if I really want to contribute in the conservation of the Andean bear, the only way is to do more research.

I followed the diet study by researching how Andean bears disperse seeds in the cloud forest. As it turns out, the seeds that Andean bears deposit in their scat were viable, and the results showed that the Andean bear was a good seed disperser. This result led me to my first presentation at my first international bear conference in Alaska, where I met Dr. Russ Van Horn and Dr. Nicholas Pilfold from San Diego Zoo Global.

Now, I’m proud to be working with more commitment to achieve the specific goals of the San Diego Zoo Global Andean bear conservation program in Peru. I’m grateful to be part of San Diego Zoo Global team, and to be continuing the work that has been a lifelong journey.