Volunteers are needed to join a Bear Sanctuary located near Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The project looks after more than 120 rescued bears endemic to Asia, which volunteers help to look after with the local keepers through tasks such as preparing and distributing food, cleaning enclosures, creating enrichment for the animals to be stimulated and much more.
You can join for 1 week up to 8 weeks and we have places available all year round.
Individuals, groups and students all welcome.
Costs for accommodation in a shared volunteer house, food, local transport, training and support start from £605.
The Bear Sanctuary project in Cambodia is currently taking care of more than 120 bears that have been saved from appalling conditions and the illegal wildlife trade. They rescue and rehabilitate the bears, which are mainly Sun bears and Moon bears (Asiatic black bear) that are facing numerous threats in Asia. The main threat being subject to the illegal wildlife trade, where almost all of the bears in the sanctuary are rescued from either poachers, exotic pet owners or people planning to use them for traditional medicine. Another grave threat to bears in Asia is bear bile farms.
The sanctuary works with communities, schools and organisations across Asia to change attitudes and raise awareness of the wildlife trade and work with universities and other institutions, who conduct critical research. Finally, they also work with government, law enforcement agencies and other charities, to create and implement a framework to combat wildlife traders.
Volunteers at the sanctuary will be part of a husbandry-oriented programme that give them the opportunity to work alongside the experienced local keepers and learn about the care involved looking after more than 120 rescued bears. The aim is to rehabilitate the bears, so it eventually will be possible to release them back into the wild.
Volunteers will work from Monday-Friday from 8:30am to 4pm and take part in a varied range of activities, which include but are not limited to:
The sanctuary is located inside a larger wildlife rescue centre with the bear sanctuary being established in 1997. It is the World’s largest sanctuary for sun bears, but volunteers will also get to experience all of the other tropical wildlife that the rescue centre has saved during their time there.
As a volunteer you will get behind the scenes of a sanctuary and be an active part of the difference it makes to the lives of the rescued bears. You will get to work closely with the bears, but for the safety and welfare of these and volunteers, there will be no direct contact. They are rescued wild animals and we want them to enjoy as natural a life as possible. The sanctuary is also located within a wildlife rescue centre, which houses many different exotic species. You will get to see many of these (if not all) during your stay, but again with no direct contact allowed.
Research Internship Programme
The project provides interested university students the opportunity to undertake an internship of 4-12 weeks in duration. Interns can do research related to their own studies, for a thesis or smaller project. We would just need to know the research topic when applying to determine whether feasible to undertake, so please include this in your application. Please be sure when enquiring to include your CV and mention any previous experience with animals/wildlife as well as any related study undertaken or previous work experience in the application.
Volunteers do not work on Saturdays or Sundays, so how you spend your weekends is completely up to you. It is very easy to get into Phnom Penh on Friday after work, if you want to spend your weekends in the city or get to Kep or Kampot, which are 2.5 hours away. Alternatively, volunteers are welcome to stay at the volunteer house enjoying the peace and quiet.
Popular destinations in Cambodia include Kampot, Kep and Rabbit Island, Koh Rong Island, Koh Rong Samoleom (the non-party island) and Siem Reap for the famous temples of Angkor Wat. The project coordinator in Cambodia would be happy to assist in organising transport to and from your destination once confirmed on the project.
3rd February to 16th February 2019
17th February to 2nd March 2019
3rd March to 16th March 2019
17th March to 30th March 2019
31st March to 13th April 2019
7th April to 20th April 2019
21st April to 4th May 2019
5th May to 18th May 2019
19th May to 1st June 2019
2nd June to 15th June 2019
16th June to 29th June 2019
30th June to 13th July 2019
14th July to 27th July 2019
28th July to 10th August 2019
11th August to 24th August 2019
25th August to 7th September 2019
8th September to 21st September 2019
22nd September to 5th October 2019
6th October to 19th October 2019
20th October to 2nd November 2019
3rd November to 16th November 2019
17th November to 30th November 2019
1st December to 14th December 2019
15th December to 28th December 2019
The above dates are a guide, however, volunteers have to arrive before Sunday 1pm to make the transport from Phnom Penh to the sanctuary. Volunteers thus need to arrive on a Sunday before this time or the day(s) before. Volunteers can then either leave after they have finished work on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.
The cost for 1 week is £605, 2 weeks £965, 3 weeks £1285, 4 weeks £1615, 5 weeks £1930, 6 weeks £2221. This covers food (daily breakfast and dinner from Sunday-Thursday), accommodation in the shared volunteer house, pick up from set location in Phnom Penh centre, daily return transfers to/from the rescue centre, training, in-country and WorkingAbroad Project support.
The costs don’t include flights to/from Phnom Penh, health and travel insurance, visa fee, lunch during the week, airport drop-off and personal expenses. It is mandatory for you to take out travel and medical insurance for the duration of the project.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for further details or any questions about dates and costs for 6+ weeks.
How are funds used?
The volunteer fee covers the accommodation, transport, food and other expenses that are involved with having volunteers at the project. A part is also financially contributing to the running of the sanctuary. At the bear sanctuary in Cambodia, they are caring for 120 rescued bears, all of which require a huge amount of resources in the form of time, money and care. The rescued bears need rehabilitation, a healthy diet, medical provisions, enrichment activities, hammocks, climbing platforms, cooling pools, dens & forest enclosures.
It costs over £3 per day to feed a single bear a healthy diet of fresh vegetables and fruit supplemented with dog biscuits for protein and additional pulses & grains. Many of the bears are rescued at an early age, sometimes as young as 1 month old. This means alot of vegetables! Bears are also extremely intelligent creatures. To keep their complex minds stimulated and provide them as close an environment as possible to their natural habitat, they receive different enrichment activities daily. But nothing lasts long around a bear and they regularly need replacement.
The sanctuary tries to provide them the best life possible, as close as they can to a natural life with large forest enclosures with cooling pools to escape the summer heat. This often requires constant repairs and upkeep to maintain. Many of the rescued bears also require extensive medical care. Whether it's a small cub, a bile farm bear with injuries/disease or bears in the sanctuaries requiring health checks and general health care, the vet department is constantly busy providing the very best treatment and care possible.
Each year, the sanctuary also take on more rescues as the government partners are able to increasingly enforce wildlife laws and confiscate animals. The volunteer programme is making it possible to also help pay for the Education and Awareness programmes.
How about also joining the Elephant Sanctuary project?
We have two great sanctuary projects in Cambodia that are both working hard for the further protection and conservation of wildlife. The Elephant Sanctuary in Mondulkiri is retiring working elephants from the tourism industry, so they can live the rest of their days roaming free in their nature reserve. Joining them before/after your stay at the Bear Sanctuary will provide you a full sense of what wildlife conservation and protection is all about in Cambodia learning from local staff and conservationists at both sanctuaries! Read more about the Elephant Sanctuary project here and please don’t hesitate to reach out to Charlotte for further questions on email@example.com.
The volunteer house is located just outside the Wildlife Rescue Centre where the sanctuary is located. Thus, volunteers are living less than 5km away from the sanctuary, which will only take about 10 minutes by car to reach. The accommodation is shared, but volunteers will be staying in twin rooms with private bathroom. The rooms are only same-sex with each room having two single beds. Private rooms are available for couples, however, availability is limited. Other facilities such as the kitchen are shared with other volunteers.
The house has hot water powered from solar panels, good insulation to keep the house cool, and ceiling fans in the rooms. Bedding, towels and mosquito nets are provided. There is a Wi-Fi connection at the volunteer house, but due to the location this can sometimes be scrappy, and there’s no connection at the sanctuary. There is no landline phone at the house. If you wish to make international calls, it is suggested that you purchase a local SIM card.
Volunteers are to make their own breakfast, yet items for this will be provided. This include bread, spreads, cereal, tea and coffee. Lunch is not provided, but easily purchased for $1-4 USD at the sanctuary. Volunteers are also free to make their own lunch at the house and bring it with them to the sanctuary or box up any leftovers from dinner. Whilst it's usually possible to accommodate for all dietary needs, please be aware that vegetarian/vegan (and some food allergies) are a fairly new concept in Cambodia. Anyone with special dietary requirements should clearly state them on the application form, and it may be worth picking up some extra food from a supermarket. During the Sunday pick-up you will be taken to a supermarket in Phnom Penh to buy any additional items you want. If volunteers choose to stay at the house over the weekend they will have to make their own meals using the food provided, such as pasta, sauces, meat, vegetables etc.
Anyone who would like to volunteer at the Bear Sanctuary needs to be min. 18 years old* with good health and physically fit to be able to undertake physical activities in a hot tropical climate. It is not required to have experience with wild animal care, but should be willing to work and have a strong interest in conservation and wildlife. Volunteers need to be able to speak English to a reasonable standard.
*Exceptions are considered for students or those with experience in wildlife/conservation.
How to get there
The local staff at the bear sanctuary picks up volunteers once a week on Sundays at 1pm from a set location in Phnom Penh. The volunteer house is about an hour from Phnom Penh city. It will be the volunteers’ responsibility to be there by no later than 1pm. If you can’t arrange to arrive before 1pm on the same day, it’s then recommended that you arrive the day before and stay at a hotel at own costs.
Volunteers have to arrange their own transport back to the airport, Phnom Penh or elsewhere after finishing on the project. Volunteers can either leave on Friday afternoon after they have finished work or on Saturday morning. The local staff can assist you with arranging transport from the sanctuary if needed.
For most nationalities, you can get a visa on arrival at Phnom Penh airport or apply for this online before leaving home. If done upon arrival, you will need to bring two passport photos with you for the purchase of any visa, otherwise you will be charged anywhere between $1-5 at the airport for them to take one for you. Your passport needs to be valid for minimum 6 months upon entry. It is only possible to extend your visa once for another 30 days and you would need to pay an extra fee. It is not recommended to overstay the allowed time of your visa, as this could involve a penalty fee and/or not being able to enter the country again.
No health certificates or vaccinations are officially required for entry to Cambodia, unless arriving directly from Africa or a country with risk of yellow fever transmission. We recommend that you contact your own GP or local travel clinic for up-to-date advice about any recommended vaccinations.
The Kingdom of Cambodia is a Southeast Asian nation bordered by Vietnam to the east, Laos to the north, Thailand to the northwest, and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest. While the Angkor Wat commemorates Cambodia's glorious history, the country has been ravaged by colonialism, the Indochina Wars, and the Khmer Rouge regime, and is today one of Asia's poorest countries.
The weather is hottest (40+ degrees) in March and April, whereas the high-season from November to February offers cooler and more windy days, with almost Mediterranean temperatures. The low season is from May to September, as this is also the rainy season, yet still frequently visited by Westerners on their Summer holidays. The peak season for the Bear Sanctuary project is January-April.
The text has been taken from Wikitravel and you can read much more about Cambodia here: https://wikitravel.org/en/Cambodia
Nikki, from the UK, joined as a volunteer for 2 weeks in January 2017 and comes with a detailed piece on what life as a volunter is like:
As a volunteer you are supervised and supported by a great team of dedicated and passionate people. As a volunteer your day will start by arriving at the centre around 8:30am.Volunteers can decide on which house to help clean, thus giving variety on a day to day basis. The houses have 3 or 4 large outdoor enclosures, so cleaning does take up most of the morning. All houses have indoor pens, however the bears are only kept in here during cleaning and scatter feeds, none of the bears are locked up at night.
During the morning volunteers help the keepers with giving out breakfast (all bears are excited for this), cleaning the outdoor enclosure (picking up poo and old food), scrubbing pools, hiding food, replacing hammocks, making log piles, raking leaves, removing old enrichment and adding new enrichment (including spraying scents around the enclosure).
It does take time to do all of the enclosures as only one enclosure is cleaned at a time, as there are not enough indoor pens for all of the bears. Once the indoor area is clean you are done and head to the kitchen. Here you start to chop up the food for tomorrow’s breakfast and today’s scatter feed. There is alot of chopping to be done to feed all 133 bears. Just before lunch volunteers often make enrichment for some of the houses. These will either be boomer balls or pieces of bamboo. These are filled with bananas, green beans, dog biscuits, honey; jam or peanut butter and plugged with morning glory leaves. It’s always wonderful watching the bears enjoy their enrichment, especially when they lie on their backs with the boomer balls over their heads, and use their long tongues to get the food inside.
At 12pm its lunch time and we head to one of the many eating places in the park. For $1 you can enjoy either fried noodles, fried rice, morning glory curry or sweet and sour vegetables. All are very delicious; you can bring your own food as well. After enjoying lunch volunteers can relax in one of the many comfortable hammocks. You may get some visitors as you relax, including wild pigs and some of the many troops of wild long-tailed macaques, who are looking for food.
After an hour for lunch you head back to the office, afternoon jobs can vary, but usually you will head back to the kitchen to finish chopping the remainder of the food. Once chopped, volunteers can assist with weighing out the food for each enclosure. It’s very well organised. Once the kitchen is tidied and enrichment cleaned, other much needed jobs are done by volunteers. This can be making a hammock (a must to do for every volunteer), making new enrichment, painting, varnishing or picking up litter.
Then from around 3pm volunteers can then assist with the scatter feeds, again choosing which house they’d like to help out in. This is a great end to the day as you can spend time hiding the food that you prepared, in the enclosures, and then watch the bears find it and enjoy it all. At 4pm your day is over and you head back to the volunteer house where you can relax.
This is a daily routine for a volunteer. The only extra thing to add is at the end of the week, on a Friday, you will be taken to the nursery house where from outside you can view sun and moon bear cubs and some of the new rescues. Mr Heng the keeper of this house has the best job ever looking after these adorable and playful cubs! It’s a perfect way to end the week and end your time as a volunteer.
The Bear Sanctuary project is doing the most amazing work and being able to volunteer at the centre in Cambodia was an absolute privilege. Their work is vital to continue to save SE Asia’s bears.
Sarah, from the UK, joined for 3 weeks in December 2016
The organisation is fantastic. After a week of scrubbing floors, chopping veg, creating enrichment and fawning over Bears I am right back into the zookeeper zone. From the very first day I was so happy to be back in this environment. All that kept running through my head was “I’m a keeper again!” And it’s wonderful to be helping animals in such need.
The Bears already get plenty of enrichment, particularly in comparison with their previous lives but we are here to help with some bigger projects and suggest ideas of our own. And we have both found that our ideas have really been listened to and acted upon despite the language barrier. Discussions are always solely to increase Bear welfare in any and all ways possible and it’s truly fantastic to have our opinions heard and our advice taken.
Of course, as ever we are always learning too and hopefully improving our skills as we go. I have certainly learnt plenty about Bears already and the challenges of zookeeping in a tropical climate. Our days are generally quite different depending on the project at hand but usually we start the morning by poo picking the outdoor enclosures, scatter feeding and then cleaning the indoor enclosures. This is often followed by a feed chop or chance to make enrichment followed by lunch. During lunch we lay in hammocks, eating, chatting and warding off the cheeky Macaques. It’s rather surreal but nice. After lunch there could be more enrichment making, more food prep, more scatter feeding and plenty of discussions as to improvements and changes we could make. There’s also chances to see some of the Bears in different houses (8 in total plus a quarantine house) and we even visited the nearby temple too.
Every keeper knows all their Bears individually and are very proud of the cleanliness of the houses they are in charge of. Most do not speak English so the language barrier as been interesting but there’s not much keeping that can’t be instructed by overzealous hand gestures. And the love they have for their job is evident in any language. I know exactly how that feels too.
Over the course of our time here (Peter and I) we have been joined by others who are sometimes industry trained, sometimes connected in some way to the sanctuary or sometimes just animal loving travellers who want to see what it’s all about. We have met some wonderfully charismatic people who have become firm friends and encouraged everything from positive thinking to questionable Khmer language practice! And as much as I love zookeeping, this is also what I love about travel, no matter whether they are Bear or human, you never quite know who you will meet next and what their story might be.
Jen Padgett, from Australia, joined as a volunteer for 3 weeks on the project in February 2015:
It felt really intimidating at first, coming to a place that represents such strength, perseverance, compassion and hope and wondering what I could contribute that would help. I have a ridiculous amount of respect for everything the bear sanctuary stands for after first finding out about the bile trade a few years ago. The years since then I found out more and more, eventually finding the project and following along loyally since that day.
We toured the Wildlife Recue centre and it is enormous! When you see these animals it's sad to see they cannot all be released however not so much if you could imagine where they would have ended up. I found it confronting to realise the amount and variety of animals but when I saw those tiny little sugar gliders all huddled together. I had no idea that this was still happening at home to that degree and how easy it seemed that they had been smuggled out.
Just confirms even more in my mind that I'm here for the right reasons, to learn, to educate and contribute whatever I can to help and share the reality of our world and the animals. I'm taking in as much as I can and my passion is stronger than ever. Every day is something new, something inspiring and something unforgettable.
If you are interested in volunteering in Cambodia, you will need to fill out the online application form (you can also print it out and send it to us by post). To secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form, including your application payment of £195. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we will reimburse this payment fully. However, for those who are accepted, the full amount needs to be paid two months before arrival. Once we have confirmed your place, you will receive a pre-departure package with all detailed information on the project, Cambodia, suggested items to bring etc.