Bears in the Andes

Although the family was struggling with the stomach illness, we were eager to go to the mountain to find bears. We had already canceled our hikes to the mountain twice because of new sicknesses. After waiting for months to start this internship, it was frustrating to lay in bed surrounded by the Andes. But on the fourth day in Corosha, we set off to watch the spectacled bear together with Liz, the project manager.

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The view over the forests after about 1 hours hike.

It is only a two to three-hour hike to get to the best viewpoint for bears on the mountain, but on the other hand, it is a quite steep 800 meters ascend. Unacclimatized and still recovering from the past days, the slopes made it difficult to breathe. The sun was fierce as most of the hike goes through open pastures, but the most difficult part was psychologically. We didn’t really know beforehand if the climb was 100 or a 1000 meters up to view the bears, and the hike was way tougher than expected.

Those of you who followed this blog for some time, knows however that a 3-hour hike shouldn’t break us. I wasn’t close to dying from overheating. And although we did bring too little water and there were plenty of cows around, drinking cow piss didn’t even occur to me. Also, we didn’t have to carry Lima with us like we did on Stewart Island, she was staying home with her new nanny.

After a tough and exhausting hike up, we reached the area where the bears lives called Copal, started our watch. All of us scanned the landscape every now and then. Looking from far away, it is easy to imagine the dark green and shaded shrubs to be a 200 kg giant male. However, usually after a minute or two, their frozen position reveals their true nature.

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Julia looking out for bears in the landscape of Copal. Note the slash-and-burn on the other side of the mountain!

Light rain softly cooled our chins and we put on our rain gear to keep warm. The lunch consisted of rice, cooked bananas and a boiled egg. It all tastes good, but without any sauce it is dry and I had to wash down the food with water.

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Once we got up at a higher elevation, the clouds came in over the highlands. Weather changes quickly.

After only about an hour at the viewpoint, a dark moving spot was seen in the landscape. It was leisurely walking through the marsh, looking at the ground. For me and Julia, it was the first bear ever to see, an amazing experience! Seeing Andean bears is extremely rare – if you are anywhere but here. It is about as difficult to see as it is to see brown bears Sweden, probably harder. Even when living in areas where the bear population is relatively dense in Sweden, which I have done for about six months, seeing one is really difficult. In fact, Andean bears are so difficult to see that there is barely any behavioral study of them in the wild. So for us, this will be a moment to treasure.

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An Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus), also called spectacled bear, seen from about 700 meters.

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