Chris Morgan's Wildnotes

BEARTREK Peru a success!

We got back from Peru just in time for Christmas and now that the dust has settled I thought you’d enjoy seeing a few pictures from ‘BEARTREK behind the scenes’. Things went so well! It’s hard to put it all into words, but we accomplished everything we set out for. We even managed to film wild Andean bears! The moment we saw out first bear was very emotional for me personally – in the early 90’s I spent a lot of time looking for them in the wild in Ecuador but was never successful. They are VERY tough creatures to see and study, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Robyn Appleton and her team of researchers – they are as committed to our cause as we are to theirs which is just wonderful, and the way it should be.

It’s pretty amazing to have completed the third BEARTREK location – not only have we now filmed in Peru, but our support for Robyn’s work has made a big impact there – it was great to see some of it with my own eyes (we’ve helped provide funding, radio collars, trail cameras, a video camera, and salaries, and we’ve created fundraising videos to support Robyn’s work). Her work has lead to the establishment of a newly-protected ecological and archaeological reserve which is no small accomplishment in Peru! While we were there I took part in a school presentation about bears in one of the local villages – to my surprise Jose, who works alongside Robyn, played one of our Wildlife Media educational videos that we put together for the team there – the kids were glued, and I was in tears – truly incredible to see our work having an impact in this way.

One more location to go – we plan to film polar bears as soon as we have the funds – hopefully in 2011. We’ve already facilitated $30,000 in funding to polar bear scientific research but we need to secure funding to take things further through BEARTREK. We are so close – three of our four locations are complete and our hopes are set upon completing the film and campaign to raise funds for bears all over the world. 

Watch the 90 second BEARTREK trailer here:  and please help if you can.



BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 01
The conservation center built by Robyn, Javier, Jose and their team – now the hub of their research.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 02
Our first Andean bear track – we were on the right path.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 03
Robyn checks a remote camera on our way to camp – these cameras have proven to be an invaluable tool as they are able to document bear presence near the precious water holes that animals use.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 04
Our basecamp was situated overlooking one of the cliff walls that robyn had described to me three years ago. The bears use these cliffs for safety, and to find food.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 05
We slept very well every night. Every day was grueling as the heat was intense (around 100 degrees F), and the terrain very tough to hike across due to steep slopes, painful plants, and drop-offs of several hundred feet in every direction!

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 06
Javier Vallejos – along with Robyn and Jose, Javier has built this incredible research project on the elusive Andean bear. Javier seldom takes his eyes off the cliff walls – always looking out for bears. Invariably – he’s the one who spots them!

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 07
Jose Vallejos – Javier’s son. Jose has become a vital part of the project – his eyes are as keen as his dad’s, and he’s also a dab hand with a video camera these days! Jose has been using the camera we provided so that he can capture unique footage even when we’re not there. 

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 08
We were lucky to have Karel Bauer as part of the BEARTREK team on this shoot. Karel usually keeps pretty busy filming Art Wolfe’s ‘Travels to the Edge’ series, and also films the Rick Steves travel shows. I didn’t think we’d ever find someone as tough, creative, and hardworking as Joe Pontecorvo (who couldn’t make it on this shoot), but I was wrong!

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 09
Spence Palermo was described to me as “the nicest man in the world” before we left. The description was right on, but Spence is also an incredibly experienced location sound person – there isn’t a place he hasn’t been, and once again we found the perfect guy for the job.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 10
I called it the ‘eagle’s nest’ – our perch overlooking the cliff walls that are scaled by bears.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 11
Then it happened – I can’t describe how rare it is to see one of these bears in the wild – I searched for many months over many years for Andean bears in Ecuador in the early 90’s but was not successful. Here, the research team in Peru made it all possible – this is Laura, one of the project’s most well-known bears – she climbed down the almost vertical mountain right in front of us and peeled snails from the under hanging cliffs with incredible dexterity. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen and seeing my first wild Andean bear was very emotional. 

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 12
The bear moved across the wall like an expert rock climber on a vertical cliff. Their behavior blew me away and really opened my eyes to the incredible adaptability that these animals have.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 13
I cropped and zoomed in on this picture so you can see the snails the bear is feeding on. It seemed like so much work for such a small reward – especially in the oppressive heat.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 14
And nose first down the cliff wasn’t a problem either! 

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 15
Javier and Robyn – we were all pretty happy to say the least after seeing Laura and having the opportunity to film her. All our hard work had paid off, and the generosity of everyone who made it possible will never be forgotten. We’re going to put this species on the map!

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 16
Jose, Javier, me, and Robyn on a ridge where we camped for the night in the hope of finding a female Andean bear and her cub that the team has been monitoring.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 17
Amazingly enough – we found and filmed the female bear and her cub. We watched as she ate a passallo tree on the edge of an enormous cliff. Meanwhile, her cub played around her as if completely unaware of the dangerous drop-off!

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 18
Karel films Laura the Andean bear as she climbs down the cliff right in front of us on her way to the water hole below. These tiny waterholes are the lifeblood for so many animals in this arid region. They also determine the best places for a stakeout.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 19
Robyn, me, and Karel planning the day at basecamp. 

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 20
Another long day in search of bears (me, Karel and Spence). Without Robyn, Javier, Jose, Isa, and Cali, none of this would have been possible. Every detail of the shoot was planned to perfection – water supply, food, basecamps needs and a determined plan to find bears. It all paid off!

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 22
Andean bears in this part of the world changed my perspective completely – here’s one of the tree species they consume – the passallo. The bears actually rip off the bark and cambium to eat the wood! Their scat is like sawdust. Later in the season the bears move down to lower elevations to eat other foods, but their time in the cliffs is spent ripping apart passallo, and eating snails from the cliff walls.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 23
Karel scrambles across a rock wall, camera in tow. 

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 24
When we arrived back at the conservation center after 10 grueling days in the field, Robyn and her colleagues had invited some musicians over to play for us. We recorded their beautiful traditional Peruvian music and may even use it in BEARTREK. Several of their songs are about bear conservation! Gave me goosebumps for sure!

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 25
Bren Phillips (volunteer additional camera person) shares some footage with the school kids.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 26
Karel and Bren film the school kids, and a boa that we rescued from the road on the way to the village. As you can imagine, the snake was quite the hit in the classroom and provided us a great education opportunity! We were all energized by the children in a big way.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 27
On my bike entering one of the villages we filmed in. The little town is located at around 12,000 feet elevation in the Andes. Here, most of the surrounding bear habitat has been destroyed. We had to drop down 10,000 feet to get to Robyn’s study area where a unique ‘pocket’ of dry forest supports the bears she is studying.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Brenda Phillips – 28
New buddies in the village – my bike caused quite the stir in this town. Not many gringos make it here, so our presence got a LOT of attention. The colorful clothes and beautiful faces made for some incredible filming opportunities.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 29
Traditional hats like this one were worn by the majority of the women in this town.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Brenda Phillips
Heading down through the mountains from 13,000 feet back towards Robyn’s study area. It seemed like every inch of ground was used for local agriculture, leaving no space left for bears.

(c) Robyn Appleton and Javier Vallejos, Peru
One of Robyn’s earlier photographs of ‘Laura’. 

At Wildlife Media we’re very proud of the support we have given to this important work and want to thank you for making it all possible. This small project is making waves – both in research on this little known species, and for benefits brought to local people. The dedication to Andean bears shown by Jose, Javier, Isa and Robyn is impressive and will make a powerful component of BEARTREK. THANK YOU for helping to make it happen!

(c) Robyn Appleton and Javier Vallejos, Peru
We sent cameraman Chris Towey to Peru with your help last year as an incredibly rare opportunity came up – a wild Andean bear cub was found by the study team – one of the rarest sights in nature. Chris came back with some beautiful footage that will be used in the final film.

The future of the Andean bear lies with research to understand this little-known species, local benefits, employment and educational opportunities for people, and the protection of land – all things that the project in Peru is delivering. BEARTREK will help to bring the needs of this species to the masses and help to promote and enhance the work of Robyn, Javier, and Jose.

BEARTREK Peru, (c) Joanna Patterson, Svalbard on an expedition I guided in 2006.
Now to polar bears! Our last filming location for BEARTREK where we’ll tell the story of climate change and the future of this species. 


BEARTREK Peru, (c) Chris Morgan – 34
I took this shot in Svalbard in 2006 – a female and her cubs clinging on to the last of the seasonal ice – polar bears are completely dependent on ice to live so climate change is having a disastrous effect on this young species (they split from brown bears only 150,000 years ago).

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