The Darwin Initiative is helping to save the Andean bear

The Darwin Initiative is helping to save the Andean bear

The Darwin Initiative, a UK government conservation funding scheme, details a recent project saving Andean bears in Bolivia.

The Darwin Initiative is a UK government scheme, operated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which works to support international projects with the aim of upholding both biodiversity and the natural environment. Since 1992, the scheme has supported over 1,000 projects in 159 countries, awarding £140m in total.

The Darwin Initiative funds and supports projects which target several biodiversity conventions, including:

  • The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD);
  • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES);
  • The Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing;
  • The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture;
  • The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands; and
  • The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

To this effect, a large number of the concerns that the Darwin Initiative aims to address through its conservation work are reflected in the UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan commitments, which seek to protect the marine environment, secure the benefits of biodiversity for the poorest communities, as well as in assisting in the prevention of the extinction of species.

The Darwin Initiative recently selected 52 global biodiversity and conservation projects, which each received a share of a total £10.6m (~€12m) in funding. One such project was operated by Chester Zoo, UK, in Bolivia, and seeks to study and conserve populations of Andean bears in Bolivia.

There are currently estimated to be around 3,000 Andean bears – also known as spectacled bears – in the wild in Bolivia. The drier conditions have led people to abandon agriculture and turn to livestock farming. Farmers feel bears are causing livestock depredation.

Andean bears are crucial to the survival of the dry forests of Bolivia, because they are able to disperse the seeds from the fruit which they feed on. As their habitat continues to shrink, the species is increasingly crossing into the urban and agricultural landscapes, leading to tension amongst local communities. Consequently, bears have been hunted and killed as a result of the damage which they have caused to both crops and livestock.

Chester Zoo’s project is looking to study the populations of bears in the region, as well as investigating the drivers of conflict between humans and bears in the forests of Bolivia. It will work in partnership with the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and Bolivian NGO PROMETA. The project was funded in part by Chester Zoo’s fifth grant from the Darwin Initiative.

Human-bear coexistence and conflict in the Bolivian Andes

Building on Chester Zoo’s expertise in the realm of human-wildlife conflict, as well as sustainable development, the Andean bear project will work to identify and trial income-generating schemes, including cheese-making and beekeeping, whilst assessing the markets for these products.

By supporting economic development in ways which will not impact Andean bears, these schemes will seek to ensure peaceful coexistence between human and bear populations in Bolivia. The project will build on the experience of the zoo in four previous projects which showed success in India, Indonesia and Nepal, all of which were supported by the Darwin Initiative.

The project will not only monitor the bears and improve the livelihoods for members of the local community, the collaboration will also source crucial information on both the ecological and social dynamics of human-wildlife conflict more broadly in the Bolivian Andes.

Through decreased losses to livestock, as well as an increase of benefits from conservation, the Andean bear project will:

  • Produce evidence in regard to bear and puma presence;
  • Source data on movement and habitat, sourced through participatory monitoring; and
  • Train communities in order to develop sustainable livelihoods, independently enhancing resilience to environmental changes.

Dr Alexandra Zimmermann, head of conservation science at Chester Zoo, championed the Darwin Initiative’s vital support for conservation, and welcomed the opportunity to defuse tensions between humans and bears in Bolivia to reduce threats posed to the vulnerable animals.

She said: “Through the support from the Darwin Initiative, we will be able to facilitate human-bear coexistence in the southern Bolivian Andes. Our project links poverty reduction and benefits from biodiversity conservation by improving livelihoods and wellbeing of communities who live alongside this threatened species.”

Vulnerable to extinction

The Andean bear is vulnerable to extinction, and large changes to the climate in the dry Andean forests pose a huge threat to the species. Climate change has fuelled greater economic activity in the region, leading to a shift from arable agriculture to livestock farming, which has resulted in an increased frequency of encounters between people, bears and livestock, and decreased the tolerance of people to predators.

Dr Ximena Velez-Liendo, a conservation fellow at Chester Zoo, explained: “By developing a wider variety of livelihoods for communities, we aim to ensure that economic development goes hand in hand with protecting crucial natural habitats. Our goal now is to use the Darwin Initiative grant to generate scientific evidence for bear and puma presence, movements, and habitat through participatory monitoring, and to understand the physical and spatiotemporal aspects of human-bear conflict dynamic.”

The Darwin Initiative
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
Tweet @DefraGovUK


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here