Volunteering with Bears
Ever wonder what a day in the life of a Bear Sanctuary Volunteer looks like? How hard is the work? What do volunteers actually do?
Our volunteer coordinator, Lauren, recently visited the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary to enjoy her very own volunteer experience with the bears! Here she shares her experience so you can get an insight into what is is like when you volunteer with bears!
"Located just outside of Phnom Penh, the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary gave me a unique opportunity to explore a new city before my volunteer adventure even began! Phnom Penh has a wealth of history and excitement to explore. I spent my first night grabbing dinner and drinks on the popular expat street, Bassac Lane. The next morning I had plenty of time to explore the Royal Palace before my 1pm pick-up. At the pickup spot I met my fellow volunteers and we were off to the Bear Sanctuary!
The drive out to the volunteer house was the perfect contrast between city-scapes and rural views. When we reached the volunteer house I was excited to see the house was a newly built. I even had my choice of bedrooms! My favorite thing about the volunteer house however was the food. I am so grateful to the cook; she was so sweet and accommodating to every volunteers’ dietary needs. Plus, living on my own without any fine culinary skills, it was such a treat to have a delicious home-cooked meal every night!
Starting the Bear Sanctuary Volunteer Experience
Monday morning, after waking up and having breakfast we met the project's volunteer coordinator, Jen, who also lives in the volunteer house. Jen immediately put me at ease. Her passion for the project made me even more excited than I already was to volunteer with the bears. Soon we were on our way to the bear sanctuary - a 5-minute drive from the volunteer house and located within an amazing Wildlife Rescue Centre. This meant I not only got to see bears but also baby gibbons, baby wildcats, otters, lions, and so much more!
After a morning of orientation, being shown the Wildlife Rescue and learning about the project, it was finally time to work!
Duties at the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary
A few other volunteers started our duties in the kitchen. We prepared meals and sensory enrichment treats for the 120+ sun and moon bears at the sanctuary. We cut fruit, spooned honey, filled bamboo tubes, and separated everything based on which bear house they were going to. There were moments I was jealous of the bears and how lucky they are to have all this fresh food prepared for them daily. After all, I love mangos and honey too! If I was not so excited to go back to the volunteer house for our home-cooked dinner I would have asked to join the bears for lunch. Luckily, we did get to join them in someway; we got to slide their lunch to them and throw their sensory enrichment snacks to them over the fence. I loved to see how excited the bears got trying to dig their treats out of the bamboo tubes. Their personalities really shined in these moments and I fell in love with all of them.
While the work isn't too hard, there is lots of walking in the hot sun, cleaning enclosures and chopping fruit. But none of that feels too difficult when you consider the amazing experience of being surrounded by the bears. After a few hours work in the morning you get a nice long lunch break to enjoy at the sanctuary. Then just a few more hours in the afternoon before heading back to the volunteer house to enjoy relaxed evenings with your fellow volunteers.
Bears at the Sanctuary
I am only human, so obviously I had a few favorites. My all-time favorite bear was Harry. First, I love his name; second, he had the coolest personality! Harry is a young sun bear that loves to show off; he struts around on his hind legs, commands your attention, and loves to strike a pose. Harry stole my heart, and I found myself wondering back to his habitat to sneak a peak of his cool guy antics every chance I got.
My other favorite bear was Brandy. The most unique looking bear at the sanctuary, in my opinion. She is a beautiful golden-colored moon bear with a gentle ‘mama bear’ personality. At one point the other volunteers and I were feeding treats to Brandy and her habitat mates; while the rest of the bears fought over treats Brandy patiently waited to be given some and even pushed a few over to her friends. She used her nose to push treats off the backs of her friends, and while all the other bears stood on their hind legs begging, she sat back and just watched the whole charade. She was not going to pander to us for a few treats, nor should she have to! I have no doubt that she must be one of the world’s most laid-back bears, and I love her for it. The best part: if you are lucky, she will give you a smile.
Overall Thoughts on My Experience as a Bear Sanctuary Volunteer
My time at the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary was incredible. I cannot thank Jen and the rest of the staff enough for the incredible work they are doing! Protecting bear populations and creating & supporting world-class bear sanctuaries. They are also helping to strengthen enforcement of wildlife laws. And even helping to develop alternative means of livelihood for impoverished families whose only other alternative for income would be to exploit these amazing bears for profit. I am grateful to have played a small role in the care of these bears, even when I was cleaning up scat!
I am also thankful for the opportunity to explore Phnom Penh, eat some great home cooking, and have such a great group of fellow volunteers around me to share in the experience! If you get the opportunity to volunteer with Globalteer at the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary, please say hello to Harry and Brandy for me!" - Lauren, Volunteer Development Coordinator
The Cambodia Bear Sanctuary
The sanctuary is home to more than 120 rescued moon and sun bears. The bears have been rescued from Bear Bile Farms, the illegal wildlife trade, the tourism & entertainment industry or lives as domestic pets. The aim is to release the bears once they have been rehabilitated whenever possible. The ones who are unable to be released get to live out their lives in peace and comfort at the sanctuary. If you would also like to help the rescued bears, get in contact and find out how you can help make a difference.