Helping to draw the Andean bear’s future

Written by Dr Camilo Chacón-Duque, Post-Doctoral Scientist in the Natural Diversity Programme

I’ve lived in England for a while and I often joke that Paddington and I have two things in common: we both moved to London from South America and we share a taste for marmalade sandwiches. There’s just a slight difference: I come from the Colombian highlands, not from darkest Peru. In real life, Paddington’s relatives, the Andean bears, live across a big portion of the Andes — including Colombia.

I’m part of the team of scientists from GROW Colombia’s Natural Diversity Programme, whose aim is to generate new knowledge around the country’s vast biodiversity and to contribute to its conservation. The Andean bears are one of the subjects of our research. They’re perfect because not only do they stand out among the region’s natural richness, but they also face many challenges due to the alteration of their habitats. The good news is we still have time to help out and provide a better future for them.

One of the things I do is to “travel back” in time using genetic material (obtained from bones, skin, etc.) from bears who lived in Colombia in the last few centuries and who are now part of museum collections. This material is passed down through generations, allowing us to understand the animal’s history and evolution. For instance, we’ll learn how bear populations are related and which ones are more vulnerable to extinction. With this, we’ll help preserve the species by helping policy makers and conservation organisations make the best decisions for the future of the Andean bears in Colombia.

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