Rainforest Alliance names Fundación Cordillera Tropical's Don Oso Program as Eco-Initiative of the Month

bear_enclosure A photo of an Andean bear, captured by a motion-activated camera trap

Cuenca, Ecuador (8 December 2010) – Ongoing work by Fundación Cordillera Tropical (FCT) to protect the endangered Andean Bear in southern Sangay National Park, Ecuador—the Don Oso Program—has been named Eco-Initiative of the Month for December 2010 by Rainforest Alliance. The Eco-Index lauds the program as an Innovative Eco-Initiative for its work in capacity building, environmental services payments, parks and protected areas, and wildlife research.

FCT's Don Oso Program began eight years ago as an environmental education initiative in Rivera Parish schools within southern Sangay National Park. Since then, the program has expanded to focus on two additional aspects of Andean bear conservation: scientific research on abundance and distribution of the bear in southern Sangay National Park, and conflict mitigation to increase landholder tolerance towards this emblematic species. In late 2006, FCT began collaborating with researchers from the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States. This joint work has greatly increased the scientific rigor of the Don Oso Program while also strengthening its ongoing educational and capacity building efforts. 

bear_enclosure Park guard Armando Garzón sets up a camera trap

The cornerstone of the Don Oso Program is community engagement and training of para-biologists. Beginning in March 2010, project coordinators Lucas Achig (FCT) and Becky Zug (University of Wisconsin-Madison) have trained ten community park guards to use motion-activated cameras to monitor these elusive bears. Over the first three months of the initiative, the camera traps captured more than 2000 images of the Andean bear. These images, in turn, form the basis of an environmental education module with which the park guards promote Andean bear conservation in local schools of Buenos Aires, Llavircay, Mazar, Queseras, Huangras and Colepato.

The success of the Don Oso Program suggests that it may represent a robust and replicable model to ensure long-term conservation of endangered species. The program has a firm grounding in science, conducted by both foreign and national wildlife conservation experts, and also makes a long-term commitment to local capacity building and environmental education. Training local people as scientists builds acceptance for and support of endangered species conservation, and sets up these local scientists to become the primary interlocutors between researchers and their communities.

The Don Oso Program's slogan reminds people that "The Andean bear lives in our forests. We are responsible for its future." This initiative is the first step in engendering a shared vision between local actors and conservationists. The program is a collaboration between FCT and the Carnivore Coexistence Lab (CCL) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. CCL won financial support from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, through the TransLinks Cooperative Agreement with The Wildlife Conservation Society and The Land Tenure Center. The program also receives support from Idea Wild and the Electric Corporation of Ecuador, CELEC-Hidropaute.

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