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Published: November 10th 2011
Hello everyone! So... here is our last post about our experience at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.
If you’ve read the last post, you already know the elephant routine we have been doing: feeding and cleaning 3 times a day, watering the animals and a special project mid-morning. Special projects are also related to the animals’ needs. For example, one day we planted pineapple trees (which will hopefully give pineapples in a year’s time), another day bananas were needed and another day, which was THE HARDEST, there was Harvest. Harvest means loading a very big truck with banana trees. The Mahouts, Thai employees, come with us to cut the trees, in a farm about 20 minutes away from the foundation. They cut and we drag and load the trees onto the truck. The harvest I witnessed was pretty hard. Even the ‘oldest’ volunteers (who have been there around 6 months) described it as ‘hard’ work, which made me tremble! Anyone who knows me can tell I am not a friend of hard physical work. Harvest takes around 3 hours and it truly drains you of all energy. The trees are small to begin with but as they cut deeper into the forest, they become heavier and heavier. We all sweat, pant, some complain, whilst others (like me) give up in the end. However, this is the one thing the elephants need: it’s their food and they eat it really fast. This 3 hour harvest will only last the elephants around 2 days. They eat around 3 trees per feed, so 12 trees a day!! (each elephant, and there are 6 at the rescue centre).
Another interesting fact is the enrichments they’re given. It’s usually fruit mixed with something else, like hay, and sometimes hidden in the strangest places, so the elephants are forced to look for it and attempt to recover it. The first time we did it, our leader, Craig, decided to hide some bananas inside a tire, and put that inside a net and tie it all several times. I did not think the elephant would win the challenge, it just seemed too complicated. Ha! Fear not my friends, elephants are the most intelligent and strong animals I’ve had the pleasure to work with up to now. Samboon, our assigned elephant that day, shook the ‘hidden-bananas-package’ for a minute or so, tearing through the net with it’s massive mouth, stepping on it to break it even more, and easily managed to get her bananas. Amazing to watch, how agile, dextrous and coordinated their trunk is. It’s like a mixture between a nose and a little hand; with it they smell, feel and grab things like we do with our arms/hands.
Watching the elephants get into the lake was also an amazing experience. People were getting teary-eyed and it’s difficult to explain why. It is just beautiful to watch then swim and have fun like little kids; they throw balls and bananas at them and they just jump and dive into the water with immense energy and strength. You can tell they love it, and you feel like you’re connecting with them.
Possibly the worst part of the experience has been the sleeping. Having to wake up every day at 6 AM one truly appreciates one’s sleep, especially as we were working 10-12 hours a day. Because of the Bangkok floods, many dogs have been left without owners. The Foundation already houses around 20 dogs (which are very well taken care of and very sweet) and with the flood came another 60 dogs. They were coming at night, so when the ‘volunteer dogs’ heard them, a mad barking and howling concert would start and continue almost all night. In the end, I was almost sick with fatigue, and wondering how people that stay longer can make it without fainting!
Our general impression from the WFFT is that help is very much needed and that the animals are as well taken care of as they can be. Come and work here! (If you can take 10-12 hours a day, 6 days a week). Coordination at the camp could be improved. Things which needed doing , like for example building a step outside Sam’s pen to allow him coming in and out easily (Sam is the only horse at the WFF, suffering from Leukaemia) was written on the board for weeks, but never undertaken. M spoke directly to the owner who happened to be there, and found out where he could find the building materials to build the step. In the end it was arranged (and all he had to do was talk to the right person!) but you could tell there was a significant lack of communication. There were other areas within management that we noted could be easily improved, but we won’t get into that now...
We made great friends these days: Zoe and Anne-Marie from Holland, Ann from France, Paolo from Italy and Martin from the UK. Will miss you all guys!!! As always, that is one of the best things of volunteer work; the bonds one makes.
Next stop: a few days on Koh Lipe, where M is undertaking some interesting diving, which he will talk about in our next post. See you soon!!
B & M
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