I’m Lavinia Spimpolo, 26 years old, and I have just completed my first volunteer experience at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. I am Italian and I have a background in Art. After I graduated, I decided to do what I have always wanted to do: work and spend time with animals.
As a new volunteer, the first thing that the BSBCC keepers told us upon entering the bear house, was that whilst inside the bear house, the bears would be able to smell you and feel your presence. This can cause the bears to become stressed and start pacing. Knowing this, I made sure to say hello to each bear as I passed by the front of their cages, allowing them to hear the calm tone of my voice so they knew I wasn’t a threat to them.
Every activity that I was involved in, including collecting dry leaves to make the cages more comfortable, I thoroughly enjoyed. The temperatures were high and the humidity was higher, and even though I got bitten by fire ants, I loved knowing that what I was doing was making the bear’s lives more comfortable.
When cutting up fruit for the bears, I made sure to provide them with the best fruit available, making sure none got smashed when throwing them through the bear’s cages. I enjoyed cleaning out the bear’s cages, because I got to be close to them – although I made sure I didn’t pass too close to their cage, as their claws are very long!
Feeding the bears porridge was such a scary experience, because we got so close to them. Once I learnt how to feed them in a safe way, it became one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of my life. I was able to feel like a relationship was forming between the bears and I. I would even walk around with the porridge like I was a special waiter with white gloves at a fancy restaurant, offering the bears their specific food.
Overall, I worked at the centre for seven days (distributed throughout eight weeks). It was not a long period of time, but it was extremely intense, and I learnt more in those seven days than many other courses I have studied over the years. The keepers were absolutely amazing and everyone worked together as a team. It was easy to see that all the keepers loved their job, simply by the way they talked about their bears and the passion that they put into their work. Thank you BSBCC for the amazing experience I was able to be apart of.