Photos from Ecuador!

This selection of photos was taken during my stint of volunteering at Santa Martha Animal Refuge in Ecuador. The rubbish ones are mine; the nicely-framed, well-lit and/or in focus ones belong to either Mel and Mark, or Toby Cannon. Click to see a larger image, and have patience if it takes ’em a while to load – I had to split the difference between small file size and decent quality. Enjoy!

Bottle feeding bear cub
Me! Bottle feeding one of our adorable Andean Spectacled Bear cubs
Toby in Canoe
My best friend and mentor Toby, with his perma-tan, perma-grin, and perma-baseball cap
Bear up a tree
The real star of my story - Osita, in all her glory! Now what's she doing up that tree? Hmmm...
Johnny and Brenda
Johnny and Brenda, the Ecuadorian power couple who created Santa Martha on their own land
Jimmy and Danielo
Jimmy and Danielo, a pair of seriously tough hombres who kept us all in line. Or, as I came to think of them, Dumb and Dumber...
Volunteer House
Here's the house we lived in - a single skin of concrete blocks with a tin roof. It was home! And it was bloody freezing...
Cotopaxi, the largest active volcano in Ecuador, loomed over us day and night. Johnny promised he'd take us to climb it one day, but sadly he never did.
Jaguar snarling
The mighty jaguar! She also got a piece of me. Note the broken fang, which we had to perform dental surgery on...
Jaguar dentistry
To do it, Johnny simply recruited a regular dentist from Quito. He’d never done animals before. So he was understandably nervous when asked to put his hands in the mouth of this sleeping beauty…!
Ashley in Canoe
Ashley, the first volunteer to arrive after me. Canadian, with a mischievous smile, she's pictured here in a canoe going down the Amazon!
Machita in Hammock
And on the seventh day, we rested… Well, except for 'Machita' – a dog we rescued from a market as a tiny puppy. She rested whenever – and wherever – she could! I didn’t have the heart to disturb her.
Leonardo Vet
Leonardo, the Vet from Quito who tended our animals. Here he's rescuing a parrot with a grossly deformed beak...
Evil Circus
...and here's the freakshow circus we rescued that parrot from. We could feel the terror of the animals inside this tent - conditions in there were horrendous.
Animal Police
These were the guys escorting us on our rescue mission - an elite squad of Quito's finest Animal Police! They were all scared of dogs.
Deformed Parrot
That poor parrot again. You may not want to know this, if you’re squeamish, but we ground down his beak with an angle grinder! And later, he bit right through my finger. Revenge, presumably.
Chained Monkey
A Capucin Monkey – chained to a tree in a concrete back yard. He had a cat collar around his waist which he’d outgrown, causing him constant pain. I caught him and Leonardo removed it.
Chained Monkey 2
Here I'm putting him in a cat carrier for transport back to the surgery. His eventual destination was Santa Martha - and after that, the Amazon!
Monkey chains
In just three months at Santa Martha, I personally removed all these chains from different animals – mostly moneys.
Chained Monkey 3
Same back yard, different monkey. Both were enraged with the pain they were in, and really, REALLY hard to catch!
Chained Monkey 4
Armed with a pair of welding gloves (that did nothing at all against those fangs) I went 2 for 2. I earned the nickname 'Monkey Man' for this. Or possibly just because I'm hairy.
Tame Ocelot
One of our Ocelots - stunning jungle cats the size of a Labrador.
Tame Ocelot 2
Tame was raised as a house cat, so he could never be released into the wild. Which was sad, but he loved all the attention he could get and I was happy to provide it!
Curious ocelot
What do they say about curiosity and cats...?
Trip to Amazon
And finally it was time to take a carload of animals to the release centre in the Amazon. if you look carefully, you can see where the volunteers sat for the 10 hour journey each way!
Animals in Canoe
The animals had to be transferred into motorised canoes for the last leg of the trip - there are no roads in this part of the Amazon.
Pygmy Marmoset
Who could resist this little beastie? A Pygmy Marmoset, the smallest monkey in the world. She was carried as a comforter by a young girl who lived with her family at the release centre. What a life! I don't think I've ever been so jealous.
Swimming in Amazon
At least I got to swim in the Amazon! Well, in one of her largest tributaries, anyway. And I got out quickly enough when someone mentioned piranhas...
Quito Football Match
As a reward, Johnny took us to a football match in Quito. The elaborate precautions you see here are to protect the players as they enter and exit the field - apparently the spectators like to throw things at them! I wrote about this in 'That Bear Ate My Pants', but had to cut it out because the book was too long.
Climbing Pasachoa
In another 'deleted scene', I wrote about our attempt to climb the nearby mountain Pasachoa. SPOILER ALERT: we failed. With the notorious 'Falco Freddy', as our guide, we got hopelessly lost and wandered the mountainside for hours. Damn it!
Machita n Don juan friends
Machita and our psychotic cat Don Juan eventually became friends. Opposites attract, I guess - one was a evil, malicious and lethal, and the other was soft, squishy and dumb as a stick.
Mark with Osita
Mark, an expert vet from England, came to volunteer for a couple of months. He was a very handy bloke, despite his dubious taste in hats, and formed a great bond with Osita. I used this photo as the cover for That Bear Ate My Pants!
Caiman surgery
Mark performed the surgery to save the life of this small crocodile (A Caiman). All I had to do was hold her still… and then catch her twice a day for her shots. Which meant I got to experience pure, unadulterated terror – twice a day.
Mel with Parrot
Mark's wife Mel volunteered with us too, and became a bit of a mother figure to us young 'uns. Here she's demonstrating the danger of walking into the parrot enclosure without a hat on.
Irish Emer
And then came the Irish! Emer was great fun to be around, especially when she was giving Jimmy shit for all his ridiculous machismo.
Irish Marie
Emer's sister Marie was utterly bonkers! She made us laugh all the time. Here she is, cheerful as ever, digging a post hole with her bare hands!
Jimmy with Machete
And here he is again: Ecuador’s answer to Clint Eastwood - Jimmy! I came to the conclusion that he was born with a machete in his hand.
Me in river walk
I was also quite proud of my machete-handling skills my the end of my stint t Santa Martha. Here I am in the midst of clearing undergrowth for the so-called 'Jungle Walk'. Ha!
Wild Boar
Amongst our denizens, we had a wild boar. He loved to be scratched... and he also loved to head-butt me in the bollocks, for some reason...
Bear cubs bum
Mark, an expert vet from England, came to volunteer for a couple of months. He was a very handy bloke, despite his dubious taste in hats, and formed a great bond with Osita. I used this photo as the cover for That Bear Ate My Pants!
Bear cub investigates
See what I mean? How could anyone resist a 'job' like that? They developed pretty fearsome claws as the got older though, which made bottle feeding them increasingly hazardous...
Upside down parrot
This little chap was a born escape artist. No matter how many times I tried to fix the holes in his enclosure, he always got out again - usually before I did! This was another story I had to cut from the book for length.
Three-toed Sloth
Can ya tell what it is yet? Why yes, you’re right! It IS a three-toed Sloth. However did you guess? What’s that? Oh right, you read the title of the photo. Good call. He was a terrifying creature... or so the Ecuadorians seemed to think. I think he just wanted a hug.
Crazy Ladder
In between the death-or-glory stuff, we built cages. Many, many cages. Our equipment was… rustic, to be polite. By way of example, this ladder – which I believe may be the biggest health and safety violation in existence – is actually three ladders built of logs and sticks, which have been tied together with wire in order to reach the top of the new parrot enclosure…
View from volunteer house
This was the view that greeted us every morning as we rose from our beds. Gorgeous!
Andean Bear Cub
And I'll leave you with a last look at my favourite chubby bear cub... Just look at that face! You'd never believe she's the kind of bear that would eat a man's pants, right?

Thanks for looking! I hope you enjoyed these pictures. Please feel free to let me know what you think! And if you haven’t yet read ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’, the story behind all these images, you can check it out here: