Andean Bear Book
Photos and text by Philippe Henry
January 7, 2013
Fig 1. In South America, cloud forests are among the last refuges for flora and fauna. Here too, logging
and agricultural expansion have fragmented the natural ecosystems.
It is very exciting to write a book on travel experiences. Through digital photos with embedded info and notebooks, we are immersed in memories. I am presently writing a book about the conservation of the andean bear in Ecuador. This species, also known as spectacled bear, because of the distinctive marks around its eyes, is the only bear species living in South America.
Fig 2. Cloud forest in the mist.
The Ecuador Cloud Forests or humid montane forests are considered one of the richest hotspot on the planet. They are more lush and cooler than lowland rain forests. The rainy season is from January until May, with a lot of precipitation in the form of rain or mist.
Fig 3. Waterfall in the cloud forest.
Highland forests are very important for local water supply that depends as much as upon mist as on rainfall.
Fig 4. River in the high Andes
My earliest memories date back to the year 2008 when I embarked on this adventure and bought a horse to ride to isolated communities of the Intag region, in northern Ecuador. I had heard that many bears that fed in corn fields were shot by farmers. I wanted to investigate and take photos of these elusive and shy creatures.
Fig 5. Bromeliads growing on trees. Bromeliads are one of the andean bear's favorite food.
Since 2008, I have spent several months in Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru to collect everything for the book and to cover a story for magazines. Today, it is a real pleasure to sit at the desk and to pick up the best images that will go along with the text. It is also the occasion to delete those images I hesitated to throw away.
Fig 6. Wild andean bear climbing an aguacatillo tree to feed with fruits.
Fig 7.Wild andean bear climbing an aguacatillo tree to feed with fruits.
Fig 8. Wild andean bear climbing an aguacatillo tree to feed with fruits.
The bulk of the book takes us in the cloud forests and mountains of Intag, covering 20,000 hectares in the buffer zone of Cotacachi-Cayapas ecological reserve. The destruction of the cloud forest, along with illegal hunting and development of mining industry are the greatest threats faced by the andean bears and other vulnerable species.
Fig 9. Farmlands in the high Andes. Fragmentation of the cloud forest
Loss and fragmentation of the andean bear's habitat are responsible for the formation of small isolated groups.
The process is spurring a decline in genetic diversity of populations and fertility, which increases the probability of extinction.
Fig 10. Farmlands in the high Andes.
Fig 11. Horses and mules carrying planks of wood.
Ecuador is a country with a rich biodiversity. Ecuador also has the distinction of having the highest deforestation rate and worst environmental record in South America.
Fig 12. Man checking corn before the crop.
Corn is a very important source of food for people leaving in the high Andes. To defend their crops and, although they know that the bears are protected by the law, farmers shoot the bears that come to feed in their plantations.
Fig 13. After the crop, the corn is stored in barns. It will be used to make flour and to feed poultries.
During all my field trips with farmers, biologists and others, I have collected many information and taken a lot of photos for the book, but only 20 of wild Andean bears. Anyway, I consider myself a lucky photographer. To photograph wild andean bears is a real challenge. I took my first photos in March 2008 after I and samuel Ayala, my local assistant, have followed a female bear for weeks, in the Intag region, with radio tracking equipment.
Fig 14. Andean bear eating corn
.I was the first photographer to document this behaviour. The bear was captured a year before and fit with a radio collar.
Fig 15. A captive andean bear is walking in the enclosure of the hacienda Yanahurco.
When they shoot a female bear with cubs, farmers often picked the orphans and sell them in hotels, restaurants or circus where they are often kept in deplorable conditions and presented as an attraction to the public. Of course it is totally forbidden and police often seize the bears and give them to the responsible of the conservation project. They are transported in a wildlife Rescue Centre for an evaluation of their physical condition and then, they are sent to an hacienda where they remain for several months to recuperate and learn to eat natural food before to be released.
Fig 16. A captive andean bear is walking in the enclosure of the hacienda Yanahurco.
To counteract the effects of isolation of bear's populations due to the fragmentation of their habitat, responsibles of the project opted for the solution to free captive bears in the hacienda Yanahurco. It is a mountainous region with cloud forests, paramos -high altitude grasslands- and plains surrounded by three huge nature reserves.
Fig 17. Captive andean bear photographed at the Houston zoological garden in Texas.
Today, many zoos kept andean bear in captive conditions. It is considered that about only 10.000 to 20.000 bears live free in a zone that extends from Venezuela to Bolivia.
Fig 18. Photographer Philippe Henry and the horse he bought to ride to remote communities of the Intag region in northern Ecuador..
Fig 19. Samuel Ayala was Philippe's assistant in the Intag region. Here he is tracking bears, with his daughter, for the conservation project.
It is rewarding to cover a story and to write a book about a conservation work. Since I moved from France to Canada, I use to work with biologists involved with conservation projects. That gives a sense to my work as a photographer.
The book will be released later in 2013.
Also see Philippe's previous article on Mute and Whooper Swans.
Short Bio: Settled in Quebec since 1994, Philippe Henry, who was born in France, is specialized in wildlife and environment photography. He spends part of his time working with biologists involved with conservation projects. He is also author and illustrator of several books.
Two new books by Philippe that will be published are:
- The Alligator of Texas. Publisher Texas A&M University Press / USA.
- The Andean Bear. Publisher L'Ecole des Loisirs / France
Tel: (Quebec) + 514 259 0664
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