Monday, April 16, 2012

From the Ariege to the Big Apple

With the arrival of Spring and the rise in temperature, the brown bear population in the Pyrenees mountains is waking up after the winter hibernation.

The film shows the male adult brown bear Balou soon after leaving his hibernation site (16 March) The bear is attracted to this tree because a mixture of cows blood and mashed up sardines has been spread on it.  It is important to attract the bear to this point because nearby is an automatic camera. The captured image is one way to keep a track of the bear population. Another is by using radio collars like the one Balou can be seen wearing. The signal emitted by the collar helps to locate the bear and track its movements.

About 20 live in the Pyrenees at present. This number is growing due in part to the programme of introducing bears from Slovenia to boost the Pyrenean population and add new stock but the growth in numbers is slow and 20 is still not  a viable population.

At the end of the XIX century bear numbers were much larger particularly in the Couserans region of the Eastern Pyrenees. Life was very hard for the inhabitants and some had the idea to earn their living by becoming bear tamers.

Bear cubs, often left after the mother had been shot, would be trained to do tricks and would be displayed from town to town. The public would pay to see the bear perform. The men were called "montreur d'ours" — literally, "displayer of bears".

In villages like Ercé, Ustou, Aulus in the Couseran area of the Ariege, bear taming became something of an industry. Ercé even had a 'bear training school'

Some Ariege bear tamers travelled far from France including to America realising a better living could be made in the U.S. Some made money travelling with their bears dispalying them from town to town while others became animal trainers in the circus. Others changed their occupations completely and went to work in the mines or in hotels and restaurants, notably in New York.

In New York, it is in Central Park that the immigrants from the Couseran often meet near a rock formation called Ercé Rock, to exchange news from the Pyrenees or prepare for a new arrival from the the 'old' country.

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