"Would really enjoy volunteering there again"
Rowanne Merrick, from the UK, volunteered for one week
I had a great experience on the volunteer programme. The keepers, volunteers and volunteer organiser were all so great to work with. There was never a time where they were short for jobs to give us, and we always got a proper break.
Working with the animals was so great, I was given a proper introduction to the programme. I was educated on the bears I was working with and the sanctuary itself and all it does to help the animals. I felt safe at all times, proper safety precautions were always in place to keep us safe from the bears. Our volunteer organiser Jen was amazing and showed us all the animals in the sanctuary. I had a great time and would really enjoy volunteering there again.
"Being able to volunteer at the centre in Cambodia was an absolute privilege"
Nikki, from the UK, volunteered for 2 weeks
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.
"It’s wonderful to be helping animals in such need"
Sarah, from the UK, volunteered for 3 weeks at the sanctuary
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 zoo-keeping 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 zoo-keeping, 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.