Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Up close with Bears

All 72 of us , eager to start our new adventures with the animals

Saturday morning saw me up bright and early waiting for my transport to Zoo Negara. I donned the tee shirt given. Soon we were all dressed in muted grey. Stickers with the words ' Zoo Negara Volunteer' were distributed to all the 72 volunteers. That was our 'passport'to carry out the assigned duties for the day at our zoo.

Texcycle had initiated a group volunteer community service among its staff. The boss, Mr Ho invited me as he thought I'd been keen to chip in as an outsider. I did.

After a brief introduction by the Zoo staff, we were split into groups of 10. It was bears for us. That got us excited and we quickened our steps following a member of the staff. Our first hint of animal presence as we walked up the path to their dens - poo! Inhaling those whiffs, I thought of all the organic manure I could lavish on my plants!

Quickly it was down to work. We took off our trainers, chose the right size rubber boots to wear. Next we picked the lidi brooms and rakes. Our supervisor had to lure the bear into the safe confines of his den for us to be out of harm's way. Then we followed his assistant to the public viewing enclosure. Ouch! I forgot to get low enough and hit my head, not once but twice against the low beam as I entered.

Looking for the right fit, then to work

Safe in the bear's den!

Bears need creative play too

Several hands made the work speedier and lighter. In the quiet of the morning, with no visitors yet in sight, we swished and swept the fallen leaves and odd lumps of poo that littered the public viewing enclosure. All done, we left the place and it was time to open the barricade and release the bears.

Fancy a lie-in?

The locks to barricade the bears before we stepped inside to clean their playground

Public viewing enclosure

Out for a morning stroll - the sun bear is the smallest of the world's eight bear species. Common nicknames are 'dogbear', 'honey bear', 'malay bear'. Habitat: dense tropical and subtropical forest

Volunteers tidying the 'divide' between bear and public (note the bear out of his den in the background)

Texcycle staff helping out

I half expected to hear the bears growl but they didnt. With the constant care of their keepers, they have got accustomed to their voices and human touch. The carekeepers called their names which have a very local flavour in a manja voice. We got to know Mango, Ramat, Ah Moy, Boy, Girl!! Luckily when I was born my parents had the good sense to give me a proper name!

Mango is my name! My other buddies are Ramat, Rupert, Ah Moy.

I came face to face with Mango behind the iron bars of her den. I called her name. She responded by clinging the door. No growls nor whimpering - just sussing and sniffing me out, the stranger for the day. Did she want to be my friend? As she stood on her hind legs close to the door, her sharp extended claws looked really dangerous. What's food for 150 kg bears like Ah Moy, the brown bear? She's 18 plus years old, a lumbering mammal . Some student volunteers came in a van and delivered their food - meaty soup with carrots and potatoes, coconuts, papayas and other fruits.

Brown bear, Ah Moy

Students arriving in a lorry delivering chow

Look! carrots, potatoes and meat - all in one big soupy delight. YUM!

The bears will prise the coconut and there's the juice to drink it all up when they get to it.

We had 2 breaks - coffee and lunch. Guess what, the nasi lemak bungkus made its appearance and that was hastily polished off by everyone! Come lunchtime, it was chicken merah, vegetable curry, cucumber and pineapple salad and papadum washed down with ice -cold rose syrup.

It was back to the roof tops of the enclosures to sweep heaps and heaps of fallen leaves. How the fallen leaves of a certain deciduous species have made a thick carpet on the roofs. I think I could have sunk my body in and be nicely cushioned! We swept like mad and bagged them. Luckily it was quite shady or else we would have been a few shades darker . I have to say in all honesty I have never swept and gathered this gigantic mountain of leaves in all my life.

So, no lazy Saturday after all. It was an insight of what the Friends of The Malaysian National Zoo ( FOMNZ) do. This volunteer body was founded towards the end of 1989 to bring together volunteers to help in the daily operations of the zoo.


  1. What an interesting adventure; sweeping the bears' den. I would have love to communicate with the bears. :) Thank you for making the zoo cleaner.

  2. What a great way to keep a zoo clean!
    This is how a lot of things could be done instead of demanding more taxes...I'm sure there are a lot of animal lovers who would love to spend a day like you!
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. It's such a worthwhile job. I'm glad you had fun doing it as well. You all look like you're having a great time.
    Great pictures.

  4. That's wonderful. Keep up the good work:) And yeah, bears are powerful. Glad that the zoo keepers kept them at bay while you were at work!

  5. That is a good example.I don't know if they accept volunteers at our zoo.I will definitely bring this to their notice.

  6. Looks like fun! Love the pics, Keats!

  7. Well-written post. Must be an exciting experience. Nice to know about such volunteer activities. :)

  8. That Mango is a cutey! I am sure the bears, even if they can't communicate, appreciate the labor performed for them. It sounds like a good program.


  9. What an awesome experience. Thanks for the photos. I can see why they sometimes call that bear "Dog Bear."

  10. Interesting cleanup,no matter how nice the bears are,they're still wild.

  11. That heaps of leaves can go in the compost as well:)Adelaide zoo is giving us new product in Adelaide ~ Manure from the animals in Adelaide zoo sell in bags. Looks like heaps of fun with the zoo volunteer work.

  12. You guys are so brave to go into the bears' den, but what a wonderful things you're doing though. A Sunday went spent!

  13. Wow, great job! What an experience! I won't go near one, even if they are at the far end of the background! No matter how tame they are! You guys are so cool and brave!

  14. Keats, I hope your head wasn't badly hurt! Have you rubbed any ointment on it yet? Any swellings? Any ringing in your ears?

    I am happy that there are enrichment programmes for the zoo animals now. 10 years ago, there was nary a coconut for them to play with. I was at the Zoo 3-4 years ago to check out their Night Walk Programme and to carry out a Zoo Check Exercise. I think I would like to return soon, perhaps in Nov, with 2-3 other fellow Zoo Checkers to do a little survey and present our recommendations to the zoo board of directors. I hear that things have improved greatly in the past few years.

    I wouldn't recommend adding bear manure to your plants! Carnivore poo has too many parasites! Let's try to stick to manure from herbivores! ;) Deer poo, anyone?

  15. What a wonderful thing to do, Keats! Great pictures as always. Thanks for sharing with us.

  16. Keats, what a great project, a good example for all of us to follow. Helping in the community, and especially in the zoo. I've never thought of volunteering to help in the zoo. I loved the pictures. It was an interesting journey.

    Thanks for your recent visit to my blog, and your lovely comment.

    Have a great day!!


  17. What an interesting adventure!
    Very interesting!

  18. Hi Keats! It seems you had a great deal of fun doing the wonderful job!!

    Sorry for the absence: out one week, busy on return and then caught by the flu... ;)
    Blogtrotter Two is still waiting for you in Algiers... Enjoy and have a great week!

  19. You are awesome Keats. Continue the good work and the good life :)

  20. I always find your post are informative.


Great to have you popping in!