Can Cute Trinkets Save Andean Bears?

New artisans with their certificates after completing their first workshop in wool-felting, with all products made through out the week displayed. Staff included: Betty (far left), Samantha Young (third from left), Jessica (fifth from left), and Maria (far right).

Artisans with certificates after completing their first workshop. Staff included Betty (far left), the author (3rd from left), Jessica (5th from left), and Maria (far right). Click to enlarge.

My latest trip to Peru was a lot different from the others. There was no exploring or adventuring, but a lot of work—the type of productivity with output that you can write up in a report to your donors, with actual numbers! “Calm down,” I bet you’re saying. “You’ve been to this site in northwestern Peru twice before,” you’re pointing out. Well, the reason I’m getting all worked up has to do with the fact that this project–community conservation of Andean bears–is actually getting off the ground! Things are happening. Bear with me as I make this profound statement: It’s incredibly satisfying to see something you’ve put a lot of effort into succeed. Sound the gongs, because they might need to write a book about that one!

Over the course of the two weeks I was there, I assisted in the planning and implementation of an artisanal training workshop, where local Peruvian women were taught the art of dry wool-felting. Two groups of students attended: five women learning this skill for the first time, and a team of six experienced women refining their skills. Besides me, the workshop staff consisted of several Andean (spectacled) bear project team members: Betty (a local Peruvian and the project’s artisan coordinator), Maria (local Peruvian, experienced artisan, and instructor to the new artisans), and Jessica (director of artisanal products, Spectacled Bear Conservation Society [SBC]).

Besides my role as a Spanish translator for Jessica, I was also there as the San Diego Zoo’s merchandise consultant for the products that will be sold in our gift shops. That’s right, folks, you will soon be able to purchase adorable, handcrafted, wool-felted bears and other animals through the Zoo and directly support the conservation of Andean bears.

Experienced artisans in front of the Spectacled Bear Conservation Center showing off their wool-felted frogs after completing workshop number two.

Experienced artisans in front of the Spectacled Bear Conservation Center showing off their wool-felted frogs after completing the second workshop.

The goal for these types of workshops is to provide an alternative income source to people in the communities adjacent to vital Andean bear habitat. We want to help improve their lives, share information about life science and bear research and conservation, and ultimately alleviate pressure on the forest and the bears. I’m pleased to announce that the workshop went smoothly, and the new artisans are now employed by the Andean bear project and paid a competitive salary for the work they do.

Working on this project has given me a whole new perspective on the word “community.” I’m referring to the dedicated people involved with the implementation of the conservation of Andean bears in northwest Peru. The team of local Peruvians who work on bear conservation consists mainly of a few close-knit families, and each person has their role. Be it artisan coordinator, instructor, outreach specialist, lawyer, or field technician, they are team players, capable, and motivated.

I’ve also had the opportunity to work closely with several people from SBC, and you don’t know motivated until you’ve met the director, Robyn, who led the discovery expedition for this dry-forest population of bears seven years ago. She has persisted in the time consuming yet ground-breaking research for her doctorate along with running an NGO.  I’ve also grown a new appreciation for the meaning of “supportive,” with regard to her husband, Ian, and her parents, Jessica and Robert. Robyn is gone much of the year from her home in Canada to be at the field site in Peru, and her family has not only made that possible, but they’ve spent much of their time contributing to the infrastructure of the project.

It is a pleasure and an inspiration to be able to work with SBC in the conservation of Andean bears; NGOs like theirs make our work at the San Diego Zoo possible and sustainable.

Samantha Young is a conservation educator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Scientific Concepts for Non-Scientists.

2 Responses to Can Cute Trinkets Save Andean Bears?

  1. I love the idea of making things like that, im now going to do that at my school! Im going to be making it for some sort of endangered animal. I was already planning on having lemonade sales, bake sales, etc at my school but now I have another thing to do. Btw after im done with the sales and stuff im gonna donate it to the Sumatran Tiger conservation effert. Ok bye for now!

  2. How can I purchase a felt figure of a spectacled bear?

    Moderator’s note: Those products should be available in our shops in a few months.