CONSERVATIONISTS at Chester Zoo have welcomed the arrival of a rare Andean bear as part of a special breeding programme working to protect the species.

The 10-year-old male Andean bear, named Oberon (Obe), has just arrived in Chester after being selected as the perfect genetic match for the zoo’s female bear, three-year-old Pacha.

Scientists are hopeful the duo will get along famously and go on to have cubs together in the near future, boosting the population of bears in a European-wide conservation breeding programme that’s working to safeguard the species.

The species was made famous by the classic children’s character Paddington Bear who, although found in a London train station in the books, was known to be from ‘deepest, darkest Peru’.

New male andean bear Obe arrives at Chester Zoo to help save his species.

New male andean bear 'Obe' arrives at Chester Zoo to help save his species.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists Andean bears as vulnerable to extinction, with fears they face a high risk of disappearing altogether in the wild without further conservation action. Experts estimate that fewer than 10,000 now remain as a result of deforestation, climate change and conflict with humans.

Mike Jordan, director of animals and plants at the zoo, said: “Male Andean bear Oberon has settled in nicely since arriving here in Chester, spending his time exploring, climbing trees and checking out the sights and scents of his new home.

“His arrival is an exciting new chapter for Andean bears in European conservation zoos like ours. Oberon hasn’t yet fathered any cubs, so his genetics could play an important role in the future of his species.

"The plan is to slowly introduce him to female Andean bear, Pacha, and hopefully they’ll hit it off and go on to have cubs together – adding a key new bloodline to the endangered species breeding programme.”

New male andean bear Obe arrives at Chester Zoo to help save his species.

New male andean bear 'Obe' arrives at Chester Zoo to help save his species.

Andean bears are the only species of bear to inhabit South America and, as well as Peru, they are found in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. Research shows South America has the second highest rate of deforestation in the world.

Since 2010, more than 26,000 km2 of forest (an area larger than the country of Wales) has been lost to deforestation every year.

Paul Bamford, regional field programmes manager for the Americas at Chester Zoo, added: “We have been working on the ground in Bolivia since 2016 to understand how Andean bears are using their changing landscape. Our extensive camera traps in the region have revealed that 30 female bears, 17 males and 13 youngsters – the southernmost population in the world – share their home with some of Bolivia’s poorest and most vulnerable rural communities.

“When bears wander into agricultural land and damage crops or kill livestock, it can often result in conflict or retaliation from the communities, which is one of the species’ main threats.

"To help combat this, we have supported the economic wellbeing of local communities, helping them to generate income through a range of sustainable initiatives and addressing poverty as a driver for conflict with bears.

"Harvesting and selling honey, restoring forest habitat and training community members to monitor the bear population are just some of the initiatives that have resulted in a much more peaceful co-existence where both people and bears can thrive together.”

The zoo is part of the Andean Carnivore Conservation Programme in Bolivia and works alongside its local partner NGO, PROMETA, the Natural History Museum Alcides d’Orbigny and the University of Oxford to protect wild bears and their forest home. The project is funded by Whitley Fund For Nature, Darwin Initiative and Tierpark Berlin.

Andean Bears are also known as ‘spectacled’ bears due to the circular golden markings that can occur around their eyes. The fascinating animals are uniquely adapted to challenging mountainous habitats and possess a thick, shaggy coat and powerful jaws used for eating hardened vegetative matter in the harsh climates of the Andes.