Text by Jungle Bob (BATs volunteer)
After a few hiccups relating to helicopter availability and some frantic preparation by Sylvia Alisto and her team it finally came together. At 9.40 in the morning two helicopters arrived at Sepilok and the visit of one of the World’s most prominent former leaders was on.Tony Blair, together with his family and security staff, had arrived and began his visit to the Orang-utan Sanctuary and Sun Bear project (BSBCC).The visit began with a presentation on the Orang-utans and then a guided walk to Platform four where the party trekked along the boardwalk and enjoyed the attentions of the primates. Tony actually enjoyed the attention of a leech on his ankle which I assured him was ‘good luck’ and a souvenir of Sabah.
They then visited the juvenile Orang-utans in the nursery area. At about 1pm they were given a presentation on the Sun Bears by Wai Pak and myself. They were very interested and asked lots of questions. Cherie Blair (Tony’s wife) was particularly fascinated and keen to get lots of information about the bears.
Wai Pak was in full enthusiastic flow as he showed them the slide show and explained the habitat depletion, threats to the bears and how they live, eat and nest. Taking an opportunity not often presented I asked Tony if he wouldn’t mind signing a BSBCC Bats t-shirt for us to help with fund raising. He kindly agreed and wrote ‘Good Luck. ‘tis a worthy cause’ and signed his name.
The meeting was relaxed and informal and set the trend for the remainder of his visit. We walked as a group up to see the bears where they spent about half an hour asking more questions and seeing the bears up close.
Raleigh international staff and a team of young people were working nearby so he took some time out to chat to them and have his photo taken with them. He viewed the work completed so far and seemed very impressed at what the volunteers had achieved.
During his visit most of the volunteers were at lunch and were hugely disappointed to have missed it. However, his generosity was again evident whilst having his own lunch, and he agreed to leave it to come and speak to them. There was plenty of warm banter, interest and support given to the West Lancashire Scout group and Camps International team. Lots more photos were posed for and hands shaken. The smiling faces in the photos are testament to how much everyone enjoyed themselves.
I was very impressed with his enthusiasm and patience. This was a valuable visit for the purposes of the Sun Bear profile carried out by a genuine warm hearted and sociable former world leader and was enjoyed by everyone.
I received some feedback from their senior security officer after they had arrived back in KK. He said the ‘Blairs’ had had a ‘brilliant day’.I donated BSBCC T-shirts to Tony Blair, Cherie Blair and two of the children and Sylvia gave them some souvenirs of their visit. I will make sure that they also receive copies of the photographs taken on the day so that they remember us and perhaps they will take me up on my offer of getting one or more of their children to come and work for us as volunteer Bat’s!