Don oso program
About the Implementing organization
Name: Fundación Cordillera Tropical
Year of establishment: 2000
Type of organization: Community-based association or organization / Legally recognized non-profit status
FCT's Don Oso Program, launched in 2002 in coordination with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Carnivore Coexistence Lab, aims to protect the iconic Andean (spectacled) bear as well as other flagship wildlife species including the puma, the mountain tapir and the rediscovered rocket frog, and their diminishing habitat within and near the southern boundary of Sangay National Park. The program combines education, applied research, and capacity-building among rural communities throughout the zone to generate support for conservation policies and local stewardship of these endangered wildlife. The applied research focused on monitoring these flagship animal populations with infrared-triggered cameras across forested private properties, identifying up to 17 new individual bears, a range extension of the tayra, and observations of rare species. FCT also mentored and trained 10 community members as parabiologists to perform camera-trap research and identify wildlife sign along transects, to contribute to the research and to local inhabitants’ appreciation of these animals. The parabiologists as well as university students were also trained in human-carnivore conflict mitigation. Lastly, FCT developed a bear conservation education program for area schools, named "Don Oso Visita Mi Escuela" (Mr. Bear Visits My School), which was so effective and popular that it was scaled up from its original pilot 5 schools to include the whole Nudo del Azuay region of the Paute River watershed.
Forests / Mountains / Rivers / Wildlife
Type of Action
Protection / Sustainable use / Awareness and education
Sustainable Development Element
Jobs and livelihoods / Food security / Peace and security
At the beginning of this project landholders viewed wildlife and particularly the Andean bear as a cost with few countervailing benefits. This is not surprising given that all respondents blamed bears for the loss of cattle, with little past assistance in managing conflicts nor compensation for losses, and leading to retaliatory or preventive killing of bears. By project's end, improved ranching (tethering/corralling) strategies were identified to minimize bear predation on cattle, as many as 17 new individual bears were ID'ed by facial markings in camera-trap photos, and no Andean bears were killed in retaliation for threats to property or livestock within project area during the course of the program. The program yielded highly valuable additional wildlife research, helping to inform the scientific community on wildlife distributions, the role of private property conservation adjacent to or within protected areas, and new strategies for mitigating human-carnivore conflict.
Sustainable Development Impacts
This program provided specific job training to parabiologists, helping prepare them for future employment in this field after the end of this specific program's funding. It also helped mitigate some of the most significant threats to livelihood security for cattle ranchers. Because a single head of cattle represents well over a tenth of the average household annual income and also provides a large portion of a family's food needs, this project also aimed to address food security by ensuring sustainable food production with minimal future detriment to endangered wildlife habitats. Because the Andean bear is so iconic in local culture - the subject of legends and often seen as "person-like", this program also sought to build pride in local species and biodiversity while furthering research areas for future work of government and university extension agents. FCT feels this enhances sustainable development potential of this region; but development predicated on the health of the bears.
Training local people in the observational study of wildlife has built acceptance for and support of endangered species conservation, and promotes these individuals and the future land stewards and researchers to continue this work. Additionally, the environmental education component is currently being replicated by the parabiologists-cum-microenterprise members in local schools. Furthermore, this work has several significant overarching contributions - a firm grounding in science and a demonstrated commitment to local capacity-building and environmental education - all of which have made it a very compelling comprehensive program for contextually-adapted replication elsewhere.
FCT and partner organizations on the Don Oso program believe this initiative's work with local landowners and parabiologists may prepresent a robust and replicable model to promote private land stewardship for the long-term conservation of imperiled species. This program piloted the use of infrared-activated camera "traps" in the Andes for use on the Andean (spectacled) bear. These practices are now being applied in other parts of the Andes for similar wildlife concerns, and can at this point readily be implemented for study of other populations of Andean bears in distinct portions of their range.
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