Last summer I travelled with 7 other girls to Petchaburi (Thailand) to volunteer with various abused animals for a month being the Deputy Expedition leader of the DUCK expeditions 2017. Since then, I am much more aware of animal abuse and want to share my experiences with as many people as possible. We volunteered at a sanctuary called “Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand” (WFFT) which is responsible for over 550 animals.
Some animals were previously used as pets with some being forced to wear clothes and eat human foods which were harmful to their bodies. Bears were trained to walk on two legs and dance to entertain humans. This upbringing has changed them forever, leaving many sadly unable to return into the wild. At the sanctuary they received the care that they deserved. If an animal was hurt and brought to the sanctuary, it would stay as long as necessary at WFFT until it was strong and healthy before returning to the wild. There was a strict ”no hands policy” meaning you could not touch the animals (except the elephants as they were so mistreated that they would stay in the sanctuary) to make sure none of the animals were humanised and to give them an upbringing closest to as it would be in nature. The animals I worked with ranged from different ape species, otters, bears, iguanas and my beloved cassowary, Bernie.
However, not all animals are brought directly to the sanctuary and a major problem was that a lot of hurt animals were brought to temples because monks must take the animals in. Even though they had good intentions, a lot of them just have no idea how to take care of wild animals. Often monkeys were chained and even when they grew bigger their chains were not removed or changed, meaning their flesh would be hurt and their body deformed as a result.
During my time there I also visited and volunteered at an elephant refuge. Here I learnt many things however the main thing I found out was: don’t ride elephants. Many people wrongly believe all elephants are gentle giants who are so powerful that riding on them causes no harm. Nevertheless, despite elephants being extremely powerful animals, their strength does not lie on their backs but in their legs and trunks. They are exploited for the logging, begging, trekking and the film industry and even when they are hurt, they are forced to work. No elephant would let a human sit on them naturally. In order to do so they have to go through the torture method called ”phajaan” when they are still a baby. No mother would give up their baby by choice so in order to train a baby elephant the mother is killed. Then the elephant is deprived from food and sleep. The aim of this cruel torture is to break the animal’s spirit. Eventually, the elephant will give in and let the tourists sit on her for many hours even though they are hurting her back. Most elephants here at WFFT are still scared from being abused for so many years, a lot of them have deformed spines or other visible injuries and, of course, all are traumatized. My daily work included cleaning the cages and preparing food for the elephants. I especially enjoyed going on walks with elephants and showering them. Some people might here ask what it felt like to be so close to these fantastic animals and I must admit, at first I was quite scared as elephants are very strong and big animals. However, after some time I felt comfortable and there was always an elephant trainer with me so I felt secure.
Now I am much more aware of animal abuse and the global wild life trade. Please don’t ride elephants or take pictures with monkeys or lorises who are being exploited to be used as photo-props. They are poached from the wild as babies and their families are killed. Especially in Bangkok the tourists attractions start from crocodile shows, taking selfies with chained animals to watching elephants draw pictures or play football. Don’t pay into this cruel industry! This does not only happen in Asia and countries far away. I think in today’s society we see animals as our property and want them to entertain us in shows, dress them up as humans and take selfies. However, we do not own wild animals and should ensure they are wild and free.