Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Privileged access

It's a tough life being a bear - two square meals a day and the chance to sleep
Much of today was spent at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, getting my first behind-the-scenes look at the incredible Free The Bears operation that houses the world's largest safehouse for Sun bears and Asiatic Black bears. I couldn't believe how big the whole complex is, home to 125 bears and with the numbers growing on a weekly basis. Seeing the mounds of food needed for their daily diet brought it home to me, that a military-style operation by the bear keepers and volunteers is required around-the-clock to keep the center ticking along each day. The acreage needed to house the bears is humongous, twenty-one forested enclosures with males and females in separate 'houses' overseen by a dozen keepers and a foreign staff that includes a vet and handful of volunteers. You really have to see it for yourself to appreciate it. And what the public can see is just a part of it, with other restricted areas away from prying eyes, such as the quarantine house. With Pesei as my expert guide, I got a behind-the-scenes look at the bear sanctuary as well as other areas of the zoo, getting into areas that only staff usually have access to. It was quite a privilege. I'll bring you more details tomorrow. Suffice to say that it was a real eye-opener and a great pleasure to see how well the bears, and other animals at the zoo, are being cared for, by a combination of Free The Bears, Wildlife Alliance and the forestry administration. On the way back to Phnom Penh, I popped into Tonle Bati to refresh myself with the two Angkorian prasats and the nearby lakeside restaurants that usually see tourists, local and foreign, flocking there at weekends. On a Tuesday afternoon, it was as quiet as a mouse.
One of the more active bears came to say hello
This clouded leopard was playing peek-a-boo
"Are you looking at me?"
Flower girls at Prasat Tonle Bati. Channa in pink was adorable.

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