Text and Photos by Matthew Vaughan
My name is Matt Vaughan, and I’m a 22 year old Australian. I was a full time student and also held a permanent part-time position for a pay TV company – well, that was until I decided to quit my job and defer my university degree. I needed to get up and leave, I came to the realisation that this is my one shot at life, and rather than living amongst the constraints and expectations of common society, why not dedicate my life to what I really wanted to do – travel and make a difference in this world. I decided to make this life changing step five months ago, and have since been travelling the world. For the past month I have been the first paying volunteer for the BSBCC – Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, and I’ve loved every second of it. Here is my experience.
So first of all, what made me want to do the volunteer work? I realised that my life was leading down a path I did not want to venture any further. I was being swallowed into the mass, mindless abyss of society – I was not cut out for a 9-5 job, with a fast car and a nice house; because I knew that on my death bed, I would look back on that lifestyle with regret. This is my one shot at life, and I could die any day; we are all on a time clock. I was sick of wasting time. I decided I wanted to do good with my life, and help to make a difference. So I signed up for volunteer work with the BSBCC, through Ecoteer. I didn’t mind paying the small price for the work, because the centre needs the money. These bears need as much money and recognition as they can get for the rehabilitation project to be a success.
Looking back on the past month of my volunteer work, I honestly can say that I have both changed as a person, and helped to make a difference. A flexible routine is followed each day, but this doesn’t mean that the days aren’t always different and exciting. My main tasks at the centre involved thoroughly cleaning the enclosures for the Sun Bears, cutting up and preparing food, feeding the bears and working on enrichment. An enrichment is a object that is placed inside a bear’s enclosure, to provide enjoyment and fun, and reduce boredom and stress. The main three points to know when building an enrichment is to create something which is, a.) easy to construct, b.) fun for the bear, and, c.) durable. Over my month at the centre I ended up making two enrichments – a platform/swing and also a hammock. The work really is tough, the days long, and the sun hot, but all in all the personal reward and sense of accomplishment gained makes all of the hard work well worth it. Each day we walked through the jungle to throw fruit and vegetables into the outside zones for the Sun Bears, or to collect materials for enrichments or other purposes (eg – termite nests for the bears to feast on). When I first stepped foot in the jungle, I was constantly wary and always jumping at anything that touched my body or anything that slithered amongst the floor. One month down, and I am now completely comfortable with the nature of the jungle – all of the insects, spiders, leeches, snakes and macaques no longer bother me!
‘Working on enrichments’
Enough about me though, the main focus here is on the Sun Bears. They really are just the most amazing animals. Each one of the 28 bears at the centre are different from one another. They all have differing personalities, traits, backgrounds, medical conditions and dietary needs. I am honoured to say that after a full month spent at the centre, I learnt each individual bear by both name, physical features and personal traits. I have come to love and care for each of the bears. I’ve developed a strong attachment to these bears, and it’s going to be hard saying goodbye. But what is a stronger feeling than human attachment is the idea of one day freeing these bears into the wild as they should be. That is the goal and the mission of the BSBCC, and it is my duty as a volunteer. I truly believe, that one day soon we will be able to rehabilitate these bears into the wild.
‘The daily work in the Bear House’
It was not only the amazing Sun Bears that made my experience so great, but also the atmosphere and people I worked with. Everyone has such great love and good intentions for these bears – it’s infectious! The keepers are all so dedicated to the bears, everyone is extremely friendly and fun to be around, and Wong - the man behind the project, is an inspiration to everyone. Across the month we had multiple social events, such as a pre-opening party, a bowling and movie night, and dinner at Wong’s house. It really is such a great community to be a part of.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent at the BSBCC. I fell in love with the bears, met the best people, did some good in this world, and had one of the best experiences of my life. I would strongly recommend the program to anyone.
Here are a few of my favourite photos I took of the bears in their natural habitat: