The bear takes an early morning walk

An andean bear lying on a branch

The andean bear is threatened by extinction. Pictures: Zoologische Gesellschaft Frankfurt (ZGF)

Hilario Ccapa Huillca has become a sought after expert on the conflict between people and bears. But that was not always the case. 'I had 52 cattle and lost them all in the space of a year'. Like most of the inhabitants of Otocani, a remote village in the Peruvian Andes, Hilario believed that the Andean bear, also known as the spectacled bear, was responsible. The people living in the villages of the Mapacho Valley think that the bears have an insatiable appetite. 'The bears are proud and won't ever stop eating; but they don’t eat everything - just the heart and the ears. They drive the livestock to the cliffs,' Hilario said each time he went to the Manú National Park office in Cusco to complain. Unlike the other Quechua-speaking villagers in the region, Hilario went to school in Cusco and thus knew right away that hunting the Andean bear was prohibited.

Dialogue and compromise

The Manú Biosphere Reserve lies in the southeast of Peru, on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Its core zone consists of the Manú National Park with its ice-covered highlands, mountain forests and tropical Amazonian lowlands on an expanse of about 19.000 sqaure kilometers. The biosphere reserve provides a habitat for countless species of flora and fauna but has also been home to many indigenous communities for generations. Over the last decade, a rise in the population has led the inhabitants of the National Park to cut down more and more trees to create pastures and farmland, resulting in a sharp decline in forest area. The Peruvian agency in charge of protected areas SERNANP (Servicio Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas por el Estado), was particularly concerned by this development. The area it monitors is so vast that it is virtually impossible to provide more than the basic level of management. SERNANP’s greatest challenge was to reach an agreement with the people living in the reserve and find a compromise between their land use rights and the National Park's conservation aims. Maintaining an ongoing dialogue using the protected areas in a way that was acceptable to all stakeholders became its prime aim.

The Andean bear – Tremarctos ornatus

There are recurring problems between humans and wildlife in the park's transitional zone. The farmers blame the protected wildlife - the Andean bear and puma - for killing their cattle and sheep and raiding their maize fields. To date it has not been possible to prove whether this is actually the case. The stories that circulate in the Andean villages have led to wildlife being shot. 'I have seen the bear over 20 times, always from a long way off. I found his nest and I know where he sleeps and where he eats. He always leaves remainders of his meals in the bush!' Each time Hilario returned to the National Park office to complain, the staff tried to explain that the bears also have problems. They are suffering from loss of habitat and from illegal hunting. The only species of bear in the whole of South America is threatened with extinction. This is a long-term problem for Manú National Park, which is virtually impossible to handle without funding and targeted research.

An IKI project eases the situation

The conflict had reached an impasse, but starting in December 2012 signs of a solution began to emerge through a project funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI). With 2 million euros in funding, the ProBosque project, which is being implemented by Frankfurt Zoological Society (ZGF) in cooperation with SERNANP, the Peruvian agency in charge of protected areas, is finally opening up more possibilities to finance the measures urgently needed to conserve the forest and ensure that the park's natural resources are used sustainably. This is also beneficial for the preservation of species diversity, because the Manú Biosphere Reserve is a globally unique biodiversity hotspot with over 5,000 species of plants and numerous species of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles.

Field assistant at the interface of the conflict between humans and bears

When the project began, Ernesto Escalante, Manú National Park's deputy director, found an innovative solution to Hilario's problems. The project was in urgent need of a new team with staff who were familiar with the area and the bears and also spoke Quechua. Hilario was exactly the right person for the job and at the time he was looking for new work, having lost his livelihood raising cattle.

The former "bear enemy" recently began working as a field assistant in the ProBosque Manú project tackling the human - bear conflict. The priority of this project component is to avoid conflict between humans and wildlife. To ensure that people and bears can co-exist peacefully in the long term, local people such as Hilario are being trained to evaluate the actual impact bears have on livestock and maize fields, and to study the bear population and their seasonal movements. The more people learn about the animals’ behaviour, such as their migration patterns, the more their fear of this alleged enemy disappears.

As a member of the field team, Hilario now collects relevant information about the bears. 'The bears take a walk early in the morning', he tells us. Hot on their trail with his motorcycle, his working day begins at five o'clock in the morning. 'I track the bears and am paid for this work.' He collects data on where the bears can be found and on all avoidable attacks on cattle, which is a valuable contribution for evaluating the situation. Hilario also visits communities in the National Park and talks to the people there about his work and the project. He has now found supporters all over and other village dwellers have begun to join in and let him know when the bears are spotted somewhere.

A better understanding helps to conserve the forest

Hilario explains the bears' habits to the villagersCloser collaboration with the indigenous communities is also making a huge contribution to the project's objective of helping to bring about a noticeable decline in deforestation. The aim is to achieve binding agreements between the National Park authority and representatives of local interests on the use of forest and agricultural land. The idea is to create incentives for the local population to try out alternatives to cultivating crops and raising livestock. For example, in the Tres Cruces region the project recently managed to persuade some families to withdraw within the National Park their livestock and work in the future as park wardens. The project team helped the families to get a very good price for their cattle so that they had at least a good seed capital for new alternative livelihoods such purchasing of dairy cows.

This is a small but crucial step on a path that will take a long time and require a great deal of persistence. The ProBosque project has set itself the task of creating a meaningful connection between nature and species conservation and social and democratic development.