When I found out you could go to Phnom Tamao (a short drive out of Phnom Penh) and be a bear keeper for a day, I had to do it. Bears, fuck yeah.
The wildlife rescue centre at Phnom Tamao is home to a few different groups working with animals in the area. The animals are normally saved from stupid people who keep them as pets, people who want to eat them (people actually eat bear paw soup), dumb-arsed Chinese medicine dicks and dumb fuckers who rip down their habits.
The centre has zillions of bears, well not really but over 100 that have been rescued.
My first attempt at being a bear keeper had a false start when I had to postpone due to an upset stomach. I rescheduled for the next week. After being picked up at a cafe in Phnom Penh, we headed out of town in a mini-bus. It's always risky going on a group tour type thing. Well it is for me, because I don't deal well with people. Luckily, I had a pretty interesting group. A couple who work in zoos and had just been trekking around Cambodia so knew heaps about animals and a father-daughter combi from Singapore.
When we got to the centre, we watched a video about Free the Bears. The poor little sun bears used to be strapped in tiny cages with a needle permanently stick in their gallbladders to drain the bile for use in Chinese medicine. Then a woman from Australia started a petition to stop that and the Save the Bears program grew from there.
After that, we went to the bear kitchen, via some bear enclosures. We made up treat balls for the bears with peanut butter, bananas, dog food, dried apricots etc. I kinda wanted to steal some dried apricots for me but I was strong.
Then we went back to the bear enclosures and throw the treats in for them. Half the time the bears didn't realise and would be sitting there wanting their treat ball when it was behind them! Bears *eye roll*.
After that, we had our own lunch, which was included in the program and talked to some of the staff about the work they do. It was damn hot by this stage and I felt a bit sick.
After lunch, we went around the centre to check out some of the other animals.
The last activity of the day was playing "find the food" with the bears. I play this game with the chucklehead dogs at home so I'm pretty good at it. The bears were locked up so that they don't savage you while you hide the food. I think I need to try doing that to the dogs next time I'm home.
If you are in Cambodia, I'd definitely recommend checking out the Phnom Tamao rescue centre. There are a bunch of other programs you can do if you aren't so into bears -- although, why would you not be into bears? You can also do longer term, pay to volunteer programs.
For more information - http://www.freethebears.org.au/web/Help-Us/Bear-Keeper-for-a-Day/