© Nick Brandt – Lucio and Tarkus, Bolivia 2022 – Courtesy WILLAS contemporary
In 2021, floods on a scale never before seen in the area where Lucio lives, swept away everything in its path. Lucio, a farmer who lives with his wife and daughter, lost all his crops. More than half of his land is now useless for planting, covered with stones, sand and mud.
Lucio, like many in the community, had everything invested in his crops. He is trying to persuade the local authorities that a retaining wall be built along the river, but if this doesn’t happen, he is pessimistic that the community can recover. Tarkus was rescued as a 3 month old baby by the side of the road. His mother had been killed.
Tarkus, now aged three, now lives in a large hilly and forested enclosure at Senda Verde Animal Refuge. During the shoot, a single electrified wire kept him safely separated from human, something he recognizes, as his enclosure has an electrified fence.
Andean bears are the only surviving species of bear in South America, with only an estimated 2000-2500 left on the entire continent.
There are multiple reasons for this : deforestation for timber and illicit crops such as coca (I saw large areas of even ‘protected’ national park in Bolivia deforested in this way); grazing areas for cattle farming; road construction; and mining. Complicating matters, protected areas, and some of the bear populations, are not large enough for the species’ survival throughout its range. Estimates put bear habitat loss at up to 4% a year.
Although protected by international trade laws, Andean bears are still illegally hunted for their meat and body parts in wildlife trade. The gall bladders are much sought after in China and fetch high prices, as do the bears’ paws.