New Colombo Plan conservation project helps student engineers learn new skills and save vulnerable bear species

25 August 2017

Six University of the Sunshine Coast civil engineering students recently spent an unforgettable week in rural Laos lending their skills to a unique project to protect Lao wildlife.

Thanks to a #NewColomboPlan mobility grant, the students worked with non-profit organization, Free the Bears, to help develop their newly-acquired Wildlife Rescue Centre at Luang Prabang.

Sunshine Coast University students working on-site with the construction of the Free the Bears Wildlife Rescue Centre.

Free the Bears provide refuge to different bear species, including the vulnerable South East Asian Sun Bear, which is often cruelly trafficked.

With the organization’s existing facility now filled to capacity, the new centre is expected to provide refuge for more bears as well as other animals, including pygmy monkeys, and to act as an educational venue.

Terry Lucke, an Associate Professor in Hydraulic Engineering at USC, said the project gave the students a chance to use their skills on an international project while they were still at university, which was an uncommon opportunity.

“A project like this shows the wide range of directions that a career as an engineer can take someone,” he said.

One of the bears that the new Free the Bears centre is helping to protect.

While on-site, the students used locally-available materials to construct a cost-effective water reticulation system, providing running water to the sanctuary’s site office and several of the animal enclosures. They also used their knowledge of mechanics theory to work out the best approach for constructing a climbing structure in a bear enclosure.

While it was hard work, there was also an opportunity to engage with the local Lao people and visit culturally significant sites.

“I came out of the trip with a renewed sense of empowerment in terms of what I would like to keep pursuing in my future career,” said one of the students, Krizza Collado. “I also established great new friendships along the way.”

Given the positive outcomes for Free the Bears and the students, Professor Lucke is hoping to turn the project into an annual event, enabling more students to share this unique experience.

USC Students had a chance to explore beautiful Laos when the hard work of conservation was over for the day.

Last Updated: 25 August 2017