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2017 Whitley Award
Winner of the Whitley Award donated by the Savitri Waney Charitable Trust
Ximena Velez-Liendo Bolivia Terrestrial
An uphill climb: enabling coexistence of Andean bears and farmers in the Bolivian mountains

threatened ecosystem

Bolivia is the southernmost country where Andean bears are found. Home to a third of suitable habitat for the species, the unprotected Inter Andean Dry Forests (IADF) represent an important stronghold for South America’s only bear. Due to extensive agricultural conversion and high levels of human activity, this mountainous ecosystem is severely fragmented, making it one of the most endangered tropical forests on Earth.

carnivore conflict

Human-wildlife conflict is a global issue. As populations expand, people are more frequently sharing space with wildlife and conflict is on the rise. In Tarija, Bolivia, severe droughts have impacted agricultural production with crop losses reaching 80%, causing people to turn to livestock rearing. This has led to increased reports of cattle and goat depredation by native carnivores, and Andean bears are sometimes killed in retaliation.

national action

Ximena Velez-Liendo is Principal Researcher at grassroots NGO, PROMETA. With 18 years of experience working with Andean bears, Ximena led the first and only national-level habitat assessment of the species status in South America, which identified the IADF as a priority area for bear conservation. This cross-disciplinary project will generate the first population estimate for bears in the country, and scale up efforts to quantify human-bear conflict. The results will be used to support a national plan for the species’ recovery and develop strategies to enable coexistence with farmers.

Ximena’s project will:

  • Increase understanding of human-bear conflict dynamics and population distribution
  • Adopt interventions to reduce bear attacks on livestock and prevent damage to crops
  • Train community members to undertake research and conservation measures
  • Develop the country’s first government supported Andean bear Conservation Action Plan with colleagues

Why it matters:

  • Bolivia holds 1/3 of the world’s Andean bears
  • Poverty levels reach 90% in the IADF so reducing livestock losses is crucial
  • The project will coordinate national efforts to protect the species

“Coexistence with large carnivores is possible when conservation efforts are initiated and owned by local people.”