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The general aim of the project (2005-2006) was to generate baseline information about the genetic variation and structure of the Venezuelan Andean Bear populations to be used in the development of a conservation strategy for the species and its remaining habitat. To achieve such final goal the project has several objectives:

  • Determine spatial genetic patterns within and among populations  (genetic variability  and discontinuities);
  • Establish the number and distribution of distinct populations (ESUs);
  • Explain observed genetic patterns in relation to landscape variables (topography, habitat types, human intervention, size of habitat block, distance among blocks,  etc).

The methodology was divided in three basic stages: field sampling, DNA microsatelites analysis, and within and among population genetic variation analysis and geoestatistical analysis.

The project has produced two protocols that increase the research teams’ ability to gather non-invasive hair samples in the field and increase the probability of DNA amplification success while analysing the samples in the laboratory. Moreover, the Venezuelan Government has adopted this project and the methodologies developed as its own program. The new “Monitoring of Andean bear population in the Venezuelan Andes Program” is a Ministry of Environment national Program using all the techniques and protocols developed for this project. Besides that, the techniques are being used in two additional projects that focus on the survey and monitoring of Andean bear populations using non-invasive techniques.

This Human-Wildlife Conflict focused project was financially supported between 2005-2007. To gain more accurate insight in the true number of bears attacking livestock, several local guides are trained and use horses to reach the villages and interview the farmers. Local guides are used in this project since they know the area and it’s people well which increases the chance of cooperation greatly. 65 local people in 17 different villages have been interviewed in total. Since the year 2000 only 83 incidents have been recorded involving cows. Half of these incidents concerns Andean bears, a third of the cows have disappeared (probably stolen) and the rest involves accidents where cows have slipped and fallen into a ravine of broken a leg in which they had to be euthanized. Bears are responsible for only half of the cow-related incidents. Fortunately farmers are not economically dependent on their cows and often only keep small herds. The total number of recorded incidents is not high and the majority involves cows that were unguarded by their herder. This makes it difficult to collect solid data on these problems.

In Venezuela the collected data is used to build the national management plan for Andean bears. The Andean bear range countries cooperate on various levels to tackle the human-bear conflict issues. It’s important to share insights and information, since the consequences of these conflicts have led to a drastic drop in population numbers in the past 30 years. In Ecuador and Colombia similar projects are being implemented.

The goal of this pilot study (2007-2009) was to gather valuable data on bear populations in the Sikhote-Alin Biosphere Zapovednik (SABZ) by providing training and information exchange on non-invasive hair snagging survey techniques (DNA study). This methodology has been introduced to many scientists studying bears, but the development of this (then new) methodology has lagged in some parts of the former Soviet Union. Study design and project implementation, as well as DNA and data analysis needed to be demonstrated to become self-sustaining in the future. WCS laid the groundwork for a more extensive survey of the entire SABZ.

The pilot study has utilized the non-invasive hair-snagging methodology to sample the brown and black bear populations of the SABZ using remote hair-snag stations and bear rub trees. WCS has also used remote cameras to verify species, identify individuals, and document behaviour and interactions.

Overall, the research has shown that the non-invasive hair-snagging methodology is feasible for both brown bears and Himalayan black bears in the Russian Far East. However, due to the small study area, the researchers have had to speculate on many questions related to the current data, although further study may provide some resolutions. To be continued…