8 December 2015
The University of the Sunshine Coast campus will be home to a donation box with a difference after a presentation from Australian wildlife organisation Free the Bears (FTB).
Representatives from the wildlife conservation group and local zoo Wildlife HQ recently presented USC Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Hill with a life-size statue of a sun bear mother and baby, in recognition of the University’s ongoing relationship with the charity.
Since 2014, 10 USC students have travelled to a Free the Bears sanctuary in Cambodia for work placements of up to one month, assisting in projects ranging from graphic design to animal ecology.
The statue of Wildlife HQ resident sun bear Mali, which is designed to collect cash donations, will be placed in the USC Brasserie to help raise funds for FTB’s work rescuing and protecting bears and educating the public on conservation issues.
USC student Ellen Bingham did a three-week placement at the FTB centre in Phnom Tamao, Cambodia as part of her dual Business and Science degree and said the experience was eye-opening.
“I loved the idea of working in conservation, and it was really valuable to have the chance to do that in such a different culture and environment,” she said.
“There was a lot of animal husbandry work, which included scatter feeding, cleaning the enclosures and helping with general maintenance.
“I was also involved in a research project in which we observed how exactly tourists would interact with the centre – for instance, if they followed the directions from the signage.”
The placements have been funded by the Australian Government, through AsiaBound and the New Colombo Plan initiatives, and USC.
International Relations Projects Manager Dr Sheila Peake said the partnership had been valuable for both work-integrated learning and research activities, and the University was keen to support the group’s continued work in Asia.
“Hopefully having this donation box on campus will improve the profile of Free the Bears and sun bears,” Dr Peake said.
“There’s a wide range of purposes for the students travelling to these centres in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam – environmental science placements, animal ecology research, design projects and we’re hoping to expand into tourism, cultural geography and public relations placements next year.
“It’s about students being involved with an endangered species, experiencing a different culture with different conservation attitudes to what they see at home. It opens young Australian eyes to the wider world.”
— Gen Kennedy