Working from the heart

Our volunteers are literally everything to the bears (and dogs and cats) at our sanctuaries in Chengdu and Vietnam. Over the years, we’ve had some absolutely fabulous help from passionate people who are willing to give up three months of their lives and step into the great unknown. They work for nothing except for meals and board, and of course lots of “food for the soul” from the resident animals we house.

Super special and oozing with tender loving care, every single one – you know who you are – and we have loved having you all staying with us on site. Several “vollies” have even returned twice – including Emily, Judy and Diana – and now our Annie.

Annie first came to us on a visit after she won a competition in Woman’s Day magazine in Australia to name a bear. She chose “Mani” and we chose “Rosie” (who only had a nickname) as the honoured recipient of this new name, which is part of a Buddhist mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” and means “jewel in the lotus”. 

Hands up we find it quite hard to remember Rosie’s new name sometimes – but Annie always gives a little tut, and beams her lovely smile, which says she forgives us once again. Here's lovely Mani enjoying a good roll in the grass:

Annie arrived back last October for her second stint which was meant to last only until December. However, learning that we were short of volunteers, she then very generously volunteered for another three months and has thrown herself into bear and dog work alike. 

During the run-up to both Christmas and Chinese New Year, Annie worked quietly at night behind the scenes to give our bears a holiday treat – in the form of what Rainbow calls “Dinosaur eggs”. In fact they are gorgeous, big paper mache balls painted with bright red and yellow non-toxic paint and filled with treats that the bears have to “work” to break open and devour the goodies inside. 

Laid out in the enclosures this month just days before welcoming the Year of the Tiger, Annie’s creation looked fabulous (especially as she had painted Happy Chinese New Year in both Chinese and English!) and the bears couldn’t wait to destroy and enjoy them. Here in her own words Annie explains how she came up with this brilliant form of enrichment: 

“What idea could I come up with to help the bears celebrate Chinese New Year? Twenty five years experience of teaching craft to primary school children came to the rescue and I launched into paper mache production.

The result was 21 hollow ball shapes hiding dried fruit as special treats for special bears. Painted bright red with Chinese New Year greetings, the treat balls were ripped apart by the bears to reveal the hidden goodies which were then eagerly eaten. It was fun to make the treat balls but even more fun to see how they helped enrich the bears’ lives.” 

This contented, red-nosed recipient showed just how much the balls were appreciated!

Annie also gives wonderful presentations of her life with the bears when she returns home to Australia - and one such presentation at the Forster Public School saw teacher Lindy Nixon and her students responding with wonderful art work and poetry which they sent to the sanctuary for display in our Education Room on site. 

Way to go Annie – a big bear sized hug and xie xie ni (thank you) to you and all of our volunteer family over the years who have brought sunshine into the lives of our animals on site.

And this from Senior Bear Manager Nic’s weekly bear report about how much of a "gem" Annie is .... :-)

“Annie is busy with shake making, dog walking, hospital bear husbandry, some administrative work and observations on Jingle bear. She has been a little diamond.”

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