This past summer I set off on a remarkable adventure to Batan Grande, Peru to work with Spectacled Bear Conservation Society (SBC) as an intern through my graduate program. I went into these two weeks unsure what to expect and came home filled with a deeper understanding of conservation education, inspired by the people and hopeful for the future. My internship was focused in conservation education, I did not have many details before my arrival, only a packing list, literature reviews, and an open mind.
I first met Robyn Appleton of SBC in 2015 at the Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco, CA. It was there that I sat in on her amazing and passionate talk around the work she has been doing for the past decade in the Northern Andes of Peru. Her presentation was moving, emotional, and inspiring. I knew right then I wanted to help. I had been interested in volunteering with someone, somewhere, and now I knew exactly where I wanted to be. I spoke with her afterwards, introduced myself and from there we started a dialogue, and worked together on possibilities that eight months later would become a reality.
My two weeks in Peru were nothing short of incredible. A humbling experience full of culture, history, communities and challenges that were unlike anything I had ever experienced before. From the moment I arrived I was submerged into the small village of Batan Grande and the challenges Robyn and her team faced as conservationists in the region. My job was to work with the education team to administer surveys to schools, park rangers, SBC staff, and participants in the Cocina Mejorada program associated with SBC. Each day was filled with meeting new people, talking with them about conservation and learning about the challenges they face and how they feel about the spectacled bear in their home.
My graduate career focus involves working with communities on how to coexist with the wildlife in their area. I had many opportunities here in California to work on various projects pertaining to coexistence, but this was my first experience in a foreign country and it was pivotal moment for me. Working in these regions was not at all what I had expected but was exactly what I needed. This experience helped me to realize this work was critical and these communities were excited to learn and understand more about the amazing animals that share the land with them. This was my defining moment. Now more than ever I knew this path was the right path.
Over the two weeks we collected hundreds of surveys, gave presentations, spoke with countless people, participated in the opening of an exhibition for SBC, participated in field research and camera trap data collection, and experienced all that the Rio La Leche watershed had to offer from ancient history at the pyramids, to natural watering holes, to communities built on cultural values and natural beauty as far as the eye could see.
Nearly six months later, what I remember most was the beautiful land and the people who lived there. What I took away from this experience was a new found understanding for conservation education on the ground level, doing the work within the communities. It is challenging, time consuming, frustrating, and seemingly endless and at times completely hopeless; but when all is said and done, it is well worth the battle.