HELP US, SUPPORT US
Volunteering at BSBCC
Text by Leah December Derksen
Photos by Jude Ailton George
I spent two weeks volunteering at BSBCC in January 2023. I am on a quest to learn from grassroots conservation centres, and was therefore excited to discover the work being done at BSBCC by Dr. Wong and his team. A naturally curious person by nature, I was full of questions, both mundane and arcane. The keepers and Dr Wong himself were happy to oblige me, doing their best to satisfy my never-ending queries. I am grateful for their generosity in sharing their knowledge and their patience.
When participating in new experiences time seems to fly by, and my time at BSBCC was no exception, as was the consensus amongst the other volunteers. Some learning curves were quickly mastered, like learning not to turn on the hose when the end is directly in your boot. Others were not so easy, like learning to visually identify each bear. Gradually the individuality of each bear became apparent, though I can’t say I came away entirely victorious in my identification skills.
Daily activities contained enough repetition to enable me to gain comfort and confidence with the tasks assigned, but enough variation to keep me engaged and constantly learning. The bears and the forest hold many wonders and I am thankful to have had an opportunity to have a glimpse of their lives.
While the bears are steal-your-heart adorable, it is worth repeating that BSBCC is doing the best they can, but ideally their bears would not be in captivity in the first place, which is largely due to the pet trade. It results in bears like dear old Amaco who was kept in captivity for 18 years before coming to BSBCC and was 30 years old at the time of my visit, who is unwilling to go outside, no matter how much coaxing the keepers do. He will never experience life in the forest. All he knows and will ever know is the confines of a cage. While carefully cared for by the keepers, his best life would have been in the forest.
Despite volunteers having only a short time at BSBCC, our role is not over when we leave. Advocacy remains one of the strongest tools of conservationists. So, share this message when you go home: wild animals belong in the wild. A bear or any other wild animal does not belong in your home. In the event of injury or orphaning, they should be cared for by those who know how to give them the best chance of returning to their natural homes. No matter how cute, no matter how unique, no matter how interesting, let’s leave the wild in the wilderness.
Also, continue to support the work of BSBCC and other agencies like it. Running NGOs is a constant fight for funding, so give financial support when you can. If you cannot contribute financially, lend your voice publicly, whether on social media or by telling your friends, family, and colleagues about your experience. Bears and the forest are not indestructible. If we do not work to protect them as Dr. Wong and his team are doing, they will not remain forever. Because it is due to human activity that their safety is threatened, it is our responsibility as a species to own up to and fix our mistakes.
From the bottom of my heart, BSBCC, thank-you for the experience I had here and all the work that goes on behind the scenes to further a mission that at times seems futile. Your work is appreciated and valued. For those considering volunteering at BSBCC, it will be a rewarding experience that you won’t easily forget.
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