“We can prevent starvation and the suffering of spectacled bears by protecting their habitat and engaging local villages in conservation.” —Robyn Appleton

In 2016, Sam joined a conservation volunteer mission in Peru led by the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society. After she returned we chatted with Sam, wanting to hear more about her time with this small dedicated scientific non-profit. Enthusiastically, Sam agreed to share her experience with SBC as a wildlife conservation expert and volunteer. Here is her story…

EwA: Sam, Thanks for sharing with us. First, can you tell us how you learned about the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society and what made you volunteer with them?

Sam: I chose the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society, also known as SBC, after attending the Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco in 2015. It was my first time attending the conference, and I had the pleasure of hearing speakers from many organizations all around the globe who are in the field day after day, working tirelessly to save a particular species from extinction. Every talk I attended that day was informative and inspiring; however, Robyn Appleton (SBC’s founder) was beyond inspiring. Her presentation was passionate and impactful. By the end of her moving talk, I was hooked. I knew this was an organization I wanted to help out and volunteer with. I waited to talk to her after her presentation, and before I knew it, I was exchanging emails with her father to coordinate my trip to Batan Grande, Peru.

EwA: Can you tell us a little more about SBC’s work?

Sam: Spectacled Bear Conservation Society (SBC) was founded by Robyn Appleton 10 years ago in Batan Grande, Peru. The spectacled bear is the only bear in South America, and it was vital that they were protected. Robyn knew the Spectacled (Andean) Bear in the region was in trouble, and she set out to find them, study them, and share her knowledge with the communities that share the land with this magnificent bear. Through years of scientific study, working closely with the communities, collaborating with zoological institutions such as San Diego Zoo Global, awareness about this bear is growing, and her team has been working tirelessly to save the bear and its habitat.

EwA: What did you do over there?

Sam: I opted to stay 2 weeks, while other volunteers may stay longer. They ask for volunteers to plan for a month or so, but they will work with you. Two weeks is typically the minimum, as a duration of any less is really not enough to immerse yourself into the culture and organization. Volunteers do a number of things while they are down there, depending on what they specialize in and what the organization may need at the time. This may range from fieldwork to education, data entry, horse training, and more.

I focused on community-based education during my stay, mainly working with survey implementation for students, teachers, and community members. I also spent time in the field, worked in the office on camera trap data entry, assisted in preparing a presentation for park rangers, and helped with the horses a bit. It was very well-rounded, and there was always something to do. Of course, there is time to relax a bit as well; there is the option for a little reading or relaxation in the outdoor hammocks! Movie night was also popular during my stay.

EwA: We can feel that you add a truly wonderful time over there. What made it so special for you?

Sam: The most notable experience for me personally, was the opportunity to meet so many amazing people who live in the Batan Grande region of Peru. The culture is rich, and the people are incredibly friendly and hospitable. It was wonderful to assist in the schools and meet the children and teachers of these villages. It was an exciting day for them, and they loved asking us how to say Spanish words in English! So many memorable experiences.

Additionally, one of my favorite days was trekking into the field. Riding a motorcycle to the trailhead and embarking on what would be a 6-hour round trip hiking into the Andes. When we arrived at the watering hole to swap out the memory card in the camera trap, we stopped and took a rest. The watering hole was this beautiful hidden gem with perfect shade, greenery, and water that is sure to attract all sorts of wildlife. During our short stay, I saw a little fox make its way to the water, and we heard another shuffle in the woods… could only hope it was a spectacled bear!

EwA: At a high level, what should volunteers expect on-site if they wish to work with them?

Sam: Any volunteer can expect simple but welcome accommodations, electricity, running water, occasional WiFi, warm meals, cold showers, and Peruvian hospitality. There is no hot water for showers, and volunteers cannot drink the water in Peru and must bring a water bottle. Safe drinking water is provided and used for all cooking. It is recommended that you pack for desert conditions, even in the winter; it is hot and dusty, but it can get quite chilly at night. Mosquitoes are a large issue, and volunteers should always expect to wear proper repellent. If you speak Spanish, it is a bonus and recommended, but it is not required as many of the staff members at SBC do speak English, but in the towns, they do not.

If volunteers do go into the field, expect a difficult hike and be prepared for rough terrain, extreme heat, and very little water. This is not meant to deter–only prepare, and believe me, the hikes that take you to where the bears are, while difficult, are beautiful and well worth it. I followed the recommended packing list provided by SBC to a “T” and found that I was totally prepared for my experience in Peru. Whether you are going into the field or not, volunteers may also take on other tasks such as camera trap data entry, assisting with the horses that are on-site, community education, and more. SBC will be sure to put your talents to good use, and definitely introduce you to new experiences and learnings.

SBC provides housing, meals, and transportation to and from the airport. There is a fee charged by the week, and it will vary based on your length of stay, and whether or not you are a student. They are very thorough and provide a detailed volunteer packet that outlines what to bring, and what to expect. Upon arrival at the conservation center, I was greeted by Robyn herself (who is not always there) and introduced to the SBC family. The rooms are quaint, private, adobe sleeping quarters, and are simple, but accommodating. There is a family that lives on the conservation center land, and they provide all the prepared meals during your stay.

EwA: And to conclude, what did you enjoy the most?

Sam: What I enjoyed most about volunteering with SBC was the family aspect. Robyn and her staff have been together for a long time, they are family and they welcome all those who visit with the same hospitality. I felt incredibly welcome there. It is an unforgettable experience that I recommend to anyone.

Editorial Note

Spectacled bears —also known as Andean bears— are named for the markings around their eyes that give them the appearance of wearing glasses. They are the only bear species found in South America. This rare, charismatic bear is highly endangered, primarily due to habitat fragmentation that has caused bears to lose access to critical feeding areas. Although this bear is generally found in humid, alpine cloud forests, SBC discovered a population of more than 65 bears in the low elevation dry forest, providing a unique opportunity to observe these bears in the wild. SBC has been able to characterize critical aspects of the bear’s biology and reproduction to identify their habitat needs and other factors impacting their conservation. SBC also works closely with the communities that live in and around bear habitats to build local people’s pride in conservation and introduce alternative behaviors that are less detrimental to the ecosystem.

If you wish to learn more about SBC’s conservation efforts to protect this great bear, please check the Wildlife Conservation Network‘s description of the program, or contact SBC directly.

A Call to Action: The region has experienced catastrophic floods and, prior to that, catastrophic fires. Our friends are rebuilding their site —Read the full story and learn how you can help them; they need it…

April 3rd 2017 | by Samantha Sullivansam-logo

The photos of the bears used in this article are the property of Spectacled Bear Conservation Society. All others are the property of the author.

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