By Lori Tierney, BS, Registered Veterinary Technician
The Sacramento Zoo is committed to wildlife conservation both in California and around the world. When the opportunity arose to join the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society (SBC) in Peru as a volunteer field assistant, I was ecstatic! Although there are no bear residents at the Sacramento Zoo, working in the field to protect Spectacled Bear habitat directly impacts other animals that do call the Sacramento Zoo home, including the tamandua, Giant Anteater, armadillo, sloth, jaguar and others.
My role as a volunteer in Peru was two-fold. First, I assisted biologists by monitoring remote cameras that were placed near hidden waterholes in the mountains. These cameras allow biologists to document bear activity without human disturbance. SBC’s research area is located in dry forest, similar to deserts of the Southwestern U.S. In the dry season, waterholes all but disappear, leaving few areas for animals to quench their thirst. Recording activity through hidden cameras and video has allowed SBC to assemble invaluable data on bear behavior, health, individual identification and cub survival.
My second task was to begin a new program – training SBC’s group of rescued horses, mules and donkeys for educational outreach programs, as well as teaching horsemanship to their caretakers. It is highly unlikely many locals will have the opportunity to see Spectacled Bears in the wild, so it’s important to make a connection with animals in any capacity. This program is a vital step toward establishing a link between domestic animals and conservation efforts to protect local wildlife. If the excitement and smiling faces of the children I met are any indication, this program is already making a lasting impact!
In addition to field work and education, SBC also works toward reducing environmentally damaging practices by creating alternative sustainable livelihoods for locals. Fuel-efficient stoves, the sale of local artisan crafts and even employment through SBC’s Conservation Center have a direct impact on natural resource protection. Working with property owners and local government, SBC has established protection of the endangered Sapote Tree, a main dietary staple for Spectacled Bears. SBC has been able to establish a direct correlation between the availability of Sapote and bear survival. With increased access to this important fruit, bears and their cubs have a greater chance of survival long-term. And that’s something we can all support!
For more information on SBC and their efforts in Peru, please visit www.sbc-peru.org.