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After 30 hours in the international flight, Maria and I finally arrived in Kota Kinabalu (KK), the capital of Sabah state at 11 pm on the April fool evening. Maria is the senior veterinary technician from Oakland Zoo who is volunteering her time to help us on this historic event. Wai Pak, my newly promoted acting project manager, came to pick us up at the airport. We spend the next day shopping for supplies in KK and meeting at LEAP office with Cynthia Ong, a.k.a., mama bear, and Sylvia Yorath, program manager of LEAP.
The next day, Wai Pak, Maria, and me took off for the 7 hours-350 km drive from KK to Sandakan. For the first time, Maria was so sock to witness the immense scale of deforestation in Borneo where vast lowland tropical rainforest, home of sun bears, orangutans, Sumatran rhino and many other precious wildlife, have been replace with sea of oil palm plantation.
Tired (from driving all day long), excited (from finally being here), depressed (from seeing the deforestation and plantation), and a bad headache (from jet lack), we finally arrived at Sepilok. We were greeted by Audrey Low, Howard Jackson and Vuthy. Audrey and Howard is a husband and wife freelance film producer from Australia who will help us documented this historic event voluntarily. Vuthy is the project manager from Free the Bear Inc who manage the 105 rescued sun bears and moon bears in Cambodia, “Really thank you all for helping us!” follow by a big bear hugs pretty much summaries all the appreciation to these volunteers who travels tens of thousands of miles to help us . I did not see the bears until the next day because the bears do not wish to be disturbed after dark.
Yesterday, we spend all day cleaning the new cages and final checking the fences of the our state of the art forest enclosures. Annemarie Weegenaar, manager of the Animal Asia Foundation’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre in ChengDu, China , arrived in the morning to join the bear moving process. Like the Load of the Ring, the fellowship of the sun bear moving team is growing better and stronger. Just like Frodo, my role to bring a better life for the caged sun bears is getting closer and closer. Under the hot tropical sun and the sprinkled rain shower on the off, we sweated for more than 8 hours to a point where sweat, rain, and mud on our body were difficult to tell apart. In the future, I would like to form a volunteer group call “Sweat for Animals” with the mission to help and save animals.
Our work did not end after we had our delicious home cooked dinner at Uncle Tan Jungle Lodge who feed us three meals a day for free. (Thank you so much Uncle Tan!). For four more hours until midnight, almost all of the managers of bear rescue centers in Asia were discussing and strategizing the best approaches of the bear moving and releasing in to the forest enclosures in our country style staff house. The results of the meeting were presented to the wildlife department’s veterinarian Dr. Cecelia Booklin and senior ranger Elis today.
Just now I go through my bear drugging and handling kits to make preparation for tomorrow’s bear sedation, medical checkup and moving. Wai Pak said, “Just like the old days when we trapped and handled sun bears in the forest.”
The bear moving countdown has begun.