Free the Bears

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November 16th 2009
Published: January 30th 2010
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We woke early this morning had a shower and wandered down stairs for a breakfast of cornflakes and toast before eventually leaving for the sanctuary at 8am the house dog Jones joined us for the trip as he apparently does every morning, the drive was interesting, we passed through the bustle of the village before avoiding herds of cows and various types of local transport, driven in a crazy fashion so familiar to developing countries.

The sanctuary is located in the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Conservation Park so there are a variety of animals most of which are indigenous to Cambodia but not all. All however have been rescued from the exotic pet or the meat trade. Our first day was spent learning our roles and duties and taking a very informative tour of the park beginning with a short induction regarding the Free The Bears organisation and how the sanctuary began and we received our ID passes.

Jodie then took us to each of the six bear houses where we met many of the 107 residents which were either Sun Bears or the larger Asiatic Black Bear also known as Moon Bears. All the bears have names. The bears are well looked after and seem happy even though most have been mistreated or abused in the past. Jodie then ran through the various safety rules before we headed to a large open restaurant area with Jodie, Peter, Denise (a Scottish Vet nurse) and Pesei a local girl who works at the sanctuary.

The restaurant was open with a thatch roof and had hammocks hanging everywhere, we bought lunch today which consisted of a roast chicken complete with the head and three feet, a large bowl of rice and various vegetables, we couldn’t eat it all and ended up giving it to the local children. Lunch was for an hour after this we went on a tour of the rest of the zoo, this was done by vehicle as the park is very large, and we saw many unique Cambodian wildlife some of which we have never seen before. All the animals were active and looked well fed and looked after.

It was soon time to return to the village, on arrival we both showered then sat on the balcony in the cooling evening drinking cans of beer before going down stairs for dinner. Later we discovered the movie the "Killing Fields" and sat down to watch it before bed.

It was a hot sticky night but I do believe we are acclimatising at last, today Pete takes Jodie to the airport in Phnom Penh as she is returning to Australia for a week or two and the programs Cambodian manager will take us to the sanctuary today. On arrival we were assigned to our houses, Ruth to the Nursery and I to the Moon Bear house, where Mr Pin Penh took me under his wing. Mr Penh is extremely efficient so a lot of the work was done before I arrived, the Bears were all in the cages when I arrived and I grabbed myself a pooper scooper and began picking up large piles of shit out in the enclosures which came in many colours and odours as well as old fruit and coconut husks that the local kids sell too visitors to throw to the bears.

On completing the cleaning of the enclosures it was time to clean the cages in the house which were pretty dirty as the bears seem to hold it in till they get inside a bucket of disinfectant and a broom took care of this, in the end it took about three and half hours to complete the work. I then headed back towards the main house meeting up with Ruth as she came out of the Nursery I bought her a cold drink at one of the little stands before going to the lunch area.

After a lunch of baguettes and cheese (purchased in the village on the way to work) we returned to the Moon bear House to hide treats in the enclosures (under the devious eyes of the Macaques) before returning to the main house to cut up huge amount of fruit and vegetable which we sorted by weight into buckets destined for the various houses. This was hard hot work as I was perched between the huge rice cook pots which gave off a lot of heat. The last task of the day was preparing the treat balls, they only have 25 so they must be rotated through the houses, and in the balls we put peanuts, jam, fruit and dog biscuits. Ruth and I then delivered them to the nursery where she introduced me to her bears and we took some photographs.

Ruth at this time noticed that one of the younger sun bears was chewing on something peculiar so she told the vet nurse who looked horrified; eventually they managed to get the bears out and discovered it was a current tester for the electric fences that the keeper had left in the enclosure. Pete had returned by now and it was time to go home, surprisingly although I was hot and filthy, I am no longer feeling the heat. We drank beer on the balcony while watching bats feed before eating rice and meat patties for dinner and watched DVD's before heading to bed early.

It’s a bit cooler today. I slept well last night and was eager to get to work this morning, we made a stop in the village for baguettes and some hardware that would be used to build an enrichment toy for the bears. On arrival at the sanctuary Ruth went of to the nursery while I was to help Pete build the toy. I am not great with my hands but over the next few days I would learn a lot and a few of my ideas and suggestions were surprising useful in building a hanging toy made of tyres and piping. By the time Ruth returned we had made a good start and it was time for lunch as we walked to the lunch area the Dhole a species of Asian wild dog was waiting in ambush for Jones as she is everyday. We ate our baguettes drank our cokes and just enjoyed the hammocks and the conversation before returning to work.

Ruth did the same jobs as yesterday poor thing suffering with the bananas as I had the day before, while Pete and I stood around looking at our toy and trying to decide what to do next, a few hours later Ruth was off home with Denise and Pesei while we continued working for perhaps another hour then stopped to get some beer on the way home. It was a great day for me. Dinner tonight was a traditional Khmer dish called Chicken Amok, which is similar to a mild curry unfortunately it was laced with ginger which I despise so I had beans on toast, then it was more beers and DVD's before heading to bed.

Thursday morning was much cooler and Ruth went to the Moon Bear House today while I continued to build "my" toy, today we managed to attach the tyres and the piping although late in the day the keepers came to help as we needed some serious muscle power to pull it together. Tomorrow we hang it in the enclosure. Meanwhile Ruth loved working with the Moon Bears they are much bigger and she enjoyed watching them walking on their hind legs. She agreed that Mr Penh is also really good to work with.
At 11.30 we went through our usual lunch routine including the Dhole harassment, but fortunately there were no scabby kids hanging around trying to steal our lunch today. Pete and I helped Ruth in the kitchen with the fruit which we completed much more quickly today. We then got to feed Shrey Lak a beautiful old bear which we now sponsor. Dinner was steak and a salad dish which was very enjoyable.

Today is our last at the sanctuary on the way we stopped in the village and I trotted off to get the baguettes the lady waits for me now and get the bread ready for me before I ask, the locals are lovely people, at the same time Pete was getting some bolts for today’s work.
Ruth was going to house six today which is quite a way away so she took some water with her and headed off while Pete and I worked on securing the chains to our toy so we could hang it. Ruth came in to get the camera as her keeper Mr Hang wanted her to take photos, one of the bears MapMap is really fat and refuses to move around so the keeper threw a bucket of water on her to get her outside. At this time I was manhandling the toy onto a wheel barrow, unfortunately I tore the tendon in my arm doing it but with help from a couple of keepers we got our toy hung up and I then spent a good hour watching the bears play on it, extremely satisfied I took many pictures.

I then set about cutting up palm trunks which we drilled holes through to attach chains and later hung up for the bears to use as scratching posts, a couple were rotten and full of grabs, these were torn to pieces in no time as the bears ate the grubs
A DholeA DholeA Dhole

Asian native dog that insults Jones everyday
as they fell out. After this Ruth and I chopped up bamboo tubes which we filled with a variety of treats for the bears to find.

It was then off to lunch, on the way back Ruth and I purchased some free the bears t-shirts, before Pete had a go at some idiot tourists who were throwing coconuts to the bears even though the signs everywhere said do not feed the bears. We then hit the kitchen finishing the fruit in record time before preparing the treats and putting them in the enclosures. We then stood and watched as the bears searched for them. Soon we were finished for the day it was a little sad to leave as we both have got so much out of the experience.

On return to the guesthouse we sat on the balcony as the day waned and drank a few more beers and talked about our day and the whole experience in general we are both keen to volunteer again. We are both exhausted but in a good way tomorrow we move on.

Additional photos below
Photos: 34, Displayed: 29



Peculiarly coloured for a Moon Bear

Moon Bear Cub

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