Close encounters in the Andes – Part 2

To ensure that I was ready for observations at first light, the alarm rang at 4.40 am. I naturally snoozed another 20 minutes as I was extremely tired from the hike, but it was enough to stand ready before the landscape below was possible to scan. Lucas joined half an hour later, giving me a piece of bread he had for breakfast. The weather was clear today and I was already badly sunburnt since the day before. While I was suffering in the sun, my bottle of sun protection was having a delightful time 800 meters below, enjoying the company of my headlamp. I hate forgetting things…



Lucas looking for bears in Copal. It is rather cold…


But I was lucky today. Julia joined for the bear observations and brought some vital equipment for another day on the mountain. I continued to scan the landscape and found a bear roaming about a kilometer away. The day passed without any extraordinary activities: Julia went back to spend the afternoon with Lima, I collected data ‘til dawn, then cooked food and Lucas went to bed without a mumble just like the day before.



I can’t complain about the view, my campsite in Copal is beautifully situated


I had the same procedure with the snoozing the next morning as well, but Lucas joined in immediately this morning. After half an hour he went for a walk but came quickly back, surprisingly excited. I managed to distinguish the words “Oso!” (bear) “Arriba” (above) from the approximately 100 words long sentence. I quickly gathered my equipment and I started to follow Lucas.

The Andean bear became visible at about 200 meters away. It was feeding on thorny aloe-vera-like plants. We walked even closer until we found a position from where we could observe it well. The bear sat down digging the plants up, seemingly unaware of our presence. Then it started to walk straight in our direction.



The bear eating


It came as close as 80 meters away and continued feeding on the plants, for almost one hour. It was an amazing experience. It started walking sideways along the mountain and came no closer. Just before it disappeared into the bush, the bear gazed straight at me. It had sensed us.

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We returned to the tent, humbled by the experience. From the campsite, we continued to watch the bear, as it had come out on the other side of the forest. I observed the bear moving across the landscape.

I looked up from my binoculars for a moment and noticed a buzzard-eagle (Geranoetus melanoleucos) and an American kestrel (Falco sparverius) (see pictures) chasing each other in the air, at a very close distance. Suddenly the buzzard-eagle changed direction and flew straight at me. It came 50 meters away, then 30 meters, but it continued. It was 20 meters, 10 meters, 5, 4… it spread its wings and directed its claws towards me, as it if was about to catch a prey but changed direction only 3 meters away.

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Partly scared, partly excited I stood and took photos of the giant bird. It looked as if it was going for another charge, but this time it did not come closer than 30 meters. My blood was full of adrenaline, and my pulse had raised. What an experience!

A few hours later, when both the buzzard eagle and the bear were no longer visible, we went down to the village again. For me, to see the two animals at such close distance was an intense, overwhelming experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life.



  1 comment for “Close encounters in the Andes – Part 2

  1. December 30, 2016 at 23:29

    Fantastic, wish I’d been there.

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