Some come to Bali for the beaches, I come for the bears.
And the crocodiles, birds, monkeys, jungle cats, squirrels and weasels…
Since I had arrived back in Indonesia earlier than planned, I found myself with some extra time on my hands. Now as tempting as Jakarta is, two idle weeks there sounded like a mild form of torture so instead I searched for some volunteer opportunities around Indo. I stumbled on the website for Bali Wildlife Rescue Center, who just so happened to have an opening the day after I got back from Bangka Island (which you can read about here if it tickles your fancy). Plus, as far as financing a volunteer trip goes (because yes, you usually have to pay) this was a steal. A room and hanging out with animals for 10 days at $120? Sign me up!
It ended up being one of the best volunteer abroad experiences I’ve had and I’ve had my fair share of them. The BWRC staff are incredible, the animals are endlessly entertaining, the work is fun and since Bali is decently small you can easily explore it during your downtime. To say it was a glorious (and gloriously dirty) 10 days volunteering is an understatement. I am sad to part ways but know that I will be back one day soon. In the meantime, to honor my nostalgic mood, I present a list of the 10 things I learned while being a wannabe animal keeper. Although I’m pretty sure the actual number is much higher than 10…
1. THE WORD “BREAK” HAS MANY MEANINGS
Apparently it is inclusive of short coffee breaks, 3 hour naps and the signaling of the end of a workday. I learned the latter the hard way when I sat for an hour, ready to get back to work, and they finally got up and said, “see you tomorrow!” and took off on their bikes. Breaks range from 10 minutes to 15 hours.. duly noted.
2. BEARS & I GET ALONG MARVELOUSLY
Balu is a 9 month old baby sun bear and we basically became best friends. He loves holding hands, pretending he’s a lapdog and eating coconuts (which he is strong enough to open with his bare bear hands). Thankfully he uses those claws to annihilate fruit, not humans, and instead just wants to ferociously cuddle with you.
3. CROCODILES ARE REALLY, REALLY LAME
They legitimately do not move. One time, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted some movement and excitedly turned to my coworker to tell him, then I realized that the crocodile was eating a rock… So they are also really, really dumb.
4. HOW TO BE RESOURCEFUL WITH NATURE
A great aspect of BWRC is how they utilize their environment and even “after work drinks” come straight from the tree. And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like a fresh coconut after a long day. Also, all the enrichment toys made for the animals come from trees on the property, old tires, bamboo and anything else that looks usable. They are pretty fun to make too! Forget PetCo, when I get home my cat will only receive toys that I have made from scavenging and scouring the forest floors.
5. HOW TO WEAVE LIKE A PRO
I learned to weave palm tree leafs into toys for cockatoos, which was a surprisingly confusing task to accomplish. Since I obviously became the resident palm professional I was put in charge of teaching some kids how to do it when they visited on a field trip. It was a school for international students whose families moved to Indonesia so most were English speaking westerners which made it mildly easier. It’s like the school Obama attended while living here as a kid, so who knows, maybe I just taught the future president of America how to properly weave palm tree leafs.
6. HOW TO STAY CALM(ISH)
In Costa Rica we were taught to not react if a monkey jumps on you, which was always easier said than done. Sorry, but fluffy objects flying out of the sky and randomly landing on you will always be semi-startling. But now, after hanging out with a bear, wrangling crocodiles, feeding ravenous monkeys with seriously endless appetites and showering with geckos, I’ve become pretty calm to sudden movements.
7. ADVANCED FRUIT KNOWLEDGE
And by “advanced” I mean super basic, like, as basic as I am when it comes to fruit apparently. I now know what an uncut papaya looks like, that starfruit actually looks like a star when you slice it and what guava is.
8. A NEW PARTY TRICK
I honestly couldn’t tell you why we made bamboo stilts one day, but it definitely happened. I’m pretty sure I will never use this skill again in my life, but hey, it can really spice up my resume in a pinch.
9. ANIMAL DIETS- OM NOM NOM
Bears really do love honey, monkeys actually go apeshit over bananas, wreathed hornbills prefer papaya over watermelon and crocodiles eat small humans. Just kidding on that last one, I promise (kind of), but they do only eat every 2 weeks!
10. SQUIRRELS ARE DELIGHTFULLY FUN LITTLE CREATURES
Just look at that thing in all its cuteness.
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