Andean bears and people in Apolabamba, Bolivia : culture, conflict and conservation.
This thesis deals in qualitative and quantitative terms with the interaction between
Andean bears and people in Apolobamba, Bolivia. This mountain range is an
important stronghold for this species, which is little-studied and yet of considerable
conservation concern. Apolobamba is also a stronghold for traditional beliefs and
attitudes towards bears. In addition, this area afforded the opportunity to compare
human-bear interaction between people living in and outside of a protected area.
Key ecological findings include the first description of the activity patterns of the
species - both bears having displayed diurnal activity with two peaks on either side of
a midday trough. Movement patterns, also previously undescribed for this species,
were characterised by highly overlapping moderately sized home ranges. Seasonal
variation was documented in activity patterns and in habitat use according to changes
in the availability of bear foods. In an omnivorous diet similar to what has been found
in other studies, bromeliads were shown to be a staple food of markedly low nutritive
value - highlighting the attraction of anthropogenic food sources such as maize and
Myths and rituals relating to bears were documented. The famous "Bear's Son" tale
was far from being the only bear-related story in circulation, contrary to what had
previously been supposed. Accompanying the wide range of depictions of bears in
these stories, there was also documented a wide range of bear-related beliefs and
attitudes. At one extreme, the beat was thought merely a pest animal, no good for
anything, dangerous to people and its possible extinction considered good. At the
other extreme, the bear was thought God-like, possessing seven human souls, with a
high medicinal value to its body parts and its possible extinction considered tragic.
Perceived depredation of crops and livestock was high, although this was not corroborated
by investigations on the ground. Frustration about the restrictions of living inside the
protected area focussed on the prohibition against killing problem animals. Despite the
evident cultural salience of bears, most people in Apolobamba would be glad if there were
no more in the future. However, tolerance was higher in certain valleys, amongst older
people and those who did not keep livestock.