Knitters step in to help spectacled bears

Saltaire Festival celebrates woolwear

Stephen Fry has issued a special thank-you to crafters who rose to a challenge that could help to conserve an endangered species.

The Shaftesbury-based Scientific Exploration Society is going on an expedition to the Andes soon to raise awareness of the plight of the spectacled bear and its organisers recently issued an appeal for people to knit miniature versions of the cute animal that can be taken on the trip.

According to the Bournemouth Echo, local people were only too pleased to get involved and tiny knitted bears - complete with stitched spectacles, naturally - flooded in.

Society founder Colonel John Blashford-Snell has said he will take some of the toys with him to give out to youngsters in South America in the hope that they will see how important it is to save the shy bear. The rest will be presented as gifts for children who have had to have teeth extracted at the dentist.

Stephen Fry made the comment because he has a special interest in saving the bear, having published a book on the topic more than a decade ago.

"There has been an extremely enthusiastic response, and Stephen Fry has said how grateful he is. It is absolutely wonderful and we are very thankful to everyone who took the time to knit a bear for the appeal," said Colonel Blashford-Snell.

Knitting coordinator Shirley Critchley said she has been "overwhelmed" by the generosity of the response, with one lady who is housebound stitching an amazing 30 bears.

However, with the expedition not set to leave for Yanachaga Chemillen National Park until this summer, there's still time to pick up your colourful yarn to knit your own spectacled bear - contact shirley.critchley1@btinternet.com if you're keen to get involved.

The spectacled bear lives in the Andean jungles of South America and is the continent's only bear species. It is so-called because of the white rings that encircle its eyes.

It is estimated that there are only around 3,000 spectacled bears left in the wild today due to habitat destruction and poaching.

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