Uni students swap class for sun bear care
FOUR University of the Sunshine Coast students have returned from a life-changing trip to help some of Cambodia's most desperate animals.
Ash Rummell, Ellen Bingham, Matt Brown and Rachel Bycroft gained hands-on experience with sun bears at the Cambodian Bear Sanctuary at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre.
It is the world's largest sanctuary for sun bears and has educated hundreds of thousands of Cambodians about the threats facing their wild bear population.
As the Coast students soon discovered, there were some horrifying truths hiding behind the cheeky, lovable faces of the beautiful sun bears.
They are often held in coffin-sized cages, unable to move or turn because of dirty catheters inserted directly into the gall bladder.
Thousands of bears are held in these conditions throughout Asia, regularly milked for their bile to feed the demand for its use in traditional medicine.
Free the Bears is an Australian organisation that has rescued more than 800 bears from the illegal wildlife trade.
It was a sad, harsh reality the USC students soon learned after they arrived at the sanctuary to do some volunteer work earlier this month.
"I wouldn't have known how widespread the issue is about the illegal wildlife trade from back on the Coast," Mr Rummell said.
"To see all of the bears in care here and to hear of their individual rescue stories daily is something that has really shocked me.
"We have a very different standard of animal welfare back in Australia. It's not until I came here and learnt about the issues facing this species that it really hit home."
All four USC students are studying in the field of environmental science or conservation.
For 23-year-old Ellen Bingham, it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a taste of an industry she has considered as a career path.
"The kind of experience that you get to take away from this is something that you wouldn't get from reading a textbook," Miss Bingham said.
"Our office every day has seen sun bears wandering by the window. Getting out into the field and getting your hands dirty really does give you a taste of what the industry is actually like.
"And for me, it has only reinforced the fact that I would like to pave a path for my career in conservation.
"It really has been a dream."