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Published: November 13th 2011
WILDLIFE FRIENDS FOUNDATION THAILAND
Everything you need to know about the elephant project in Thailand
Those of you using Globalteer to undertake the elephant project in Thailand should take a few minutes to read this. It will help you to determine if this project is for you, as some of the below information is not available from Globalteer:
1) Works starts at 6.30am every day.
2) You will work between 10 and 12 hours, 6 days a week (the hours stated by Globalteer are considerably less, so be prepared to work long hard hours)
3) Breakfast is very basic; they provide you with bread, butter, jam, tea and coffee. Sometimes water, butter and tea runs out and there are no extra supplies due to bad management. Things like cereals, snacks and drinks, you need to buy yourself. Take your own supplies before going to the elephant centre to avoid these types of problems. If you want to buy it once there, do so in Hua Hin (1 hours drive away), as in the village next to the centre, they don’t sell much. Bring your own gloves and wellies, you will definitely need them.
4) The elephant centre is also a wildlife centre (all in one). You will find all types of wild animals while there. These include; 100’s of monkeys of different species, bears, a crocodile, an otter, a tiger, a horse, birds, wild pigs, 20 dogs running free (another 40 dogs arrived while we were there) etc.
5) If you decide to stay, agree not to have the following rooms 1, 2, 3 & 4. These rooms are by far the noisiest in the whole complex and don’t have on-suite bathrooms. These rooms are next to the area where the volunteers all meet up, so it is a busy area. There are only two bathrooms for these 4 rooms and are used by dozens of other volunteers because of its proximity to the volunteer meeting area and kitchen.
6) Sleeping is a nightmare unless you are a really heavy sleeper. Most people we spoke to complained about the noise levels at night. The dogs, 20 of them and later another 60, would bark and howl throughout the night you also have all the wild animal’s noises to contend with. Because the rooms are located in the volunteers meeting area, it can also get noisy due to people talking, drinking and socializing. We didn’t get a single night’s decent sleep, as our room was in the volunteer meeting area.
7) Because you are in an isolated area, expect to find, even in your room, mice, frogs, snakes and all types of insects. Take a spray can of mosquito killer and repellent. We had mice in our room and found droppings all over our things and beds every day.
8) Take a comprehensive first aid box. The one they have in the centre is very basic.
9) Be very careful with the electrified fences. Being zapped with electricity is not fun. I was zapped accidentally across the back and was sent flying onto the floor screaming in agony. Other cases; one lady was zapped on two occasions, once on her arm and once on her back. Another lady was zapped on the head and knocked out for several minutes. Another lady grabbed hold of a live wire and couldn’t let go for a while. It happens often and frequently!
10) Demand an information pack from Globalteer. Our Globalteer contact told us there were none and that the information was available on their website, even though they advertise the fact that a “Comprehensive Information Brochure” is included in the donation (in breach of their own terms, where they state: ‘a comprehensive information folder will be sent to you with all information including a packing list, Thailand cultural differences, Buddhist Monk etiquette, useful language phrases, project rules, useful phone contacts and full project information’) Other volunteers at the centre were given this vital information from their pertinent organisations.
11) Globalteer advertises on their website, that taxi fares are between 150-250 Baht approximately, for half an hour. We paid 700 Baht for a 40 minute taxi ride to Cha-Am, arranged by WFFT staff, considerably more than the advertised.
12) In the Globalteer website, it states that a typical day at the centre includes:
• Early morning walk to collect the elephants from their night location in the forest.
• Bathing and swimming with the elephants in the lake or river.
• Walking the elephants into the forest to forage.
• Collecting fruits for their big appetites.
• Cleaning their enclosure at the centre.
• Washing the elephants with hose pipes.
• Learning all about these gentle giants.
Very nicely worded but the truth is: that in the time we spent at the centre, we did not swim with elephants once, we did not collect the elephants from their night location (each have their enclosed area and they don’t move from there) and we were not being given information about these animals (except for the questions we asked to our ‘leader’). A typical day ACTUALLY includes:
- Cutting banana trees and dragging them to the elephant’s enclosure for feeding 3 times/day
- Cleaning leftover banana leaves and faeces from the day before 3 times/day
- Watering the animals and feeding them fruit once a day
- Special projects related to the animals (i.e. planting fruit trees, loading fruits onto truck, harvest)
- Peeling and cutting fruit for the elephants, washing tools
- Helping the Vet clean abscesses
- Helping with other animals such as the horse, and house duty for those staying more than a week (cleaning kitchen, feeding dogs etc)
We did not mind undertaking these extra tasks, but we did mind being told we would swim with the elephants and walk with them, when in fact, you don’t do this at all. A woman we met, coming through Globalteer, was pretty upset as she chose this project solely because she wanted to swim with the elephants and in the 3 weeks she had been there, she had done it just once. We didn’t do it at all!
As well, there is VERY HARD physical work involved, which Globalteer does not mention, possibly in order not to deter people from coming. For example, HARVEST is undertaken at least 3 times a week and everyone involved in elephant care participates. Harvest involves driving to a farm around 20 minutes away from the centre and cutting banana trees which the elephants need as nourishment. Thankfully the trees are cut by Mahouts (Thai workers) but nonetheless, dragging them towards the truck and loading them onto the truck is a volunteers’ job. These trees are VERY heavy and the Harvest takes around 3 hours. Imagine 3 hours carrying massive trees and pulling them onto the truck in about 35C. And this has to be done every 2 days as elephants consume a massive amount of banana plant every day. If you have any sort of back or neck problems, don’t do it!!! You need to be very fit for this role.
A couple of men at the centre were suffering from health problems (neck, fatigue) due to working so many hours a day and from undertaking such activities. Sometimes, not even guys can take this!
The single most important recommendation that I would make is this; book only a 1 week stay. If you feel you can hack it, then you can pay for the extra weeks after the first week. We cut our trip short and lost money as they do not refund. There were other volunteers who had paid for several months and were really regretting it. Unfortunately, they felt they had to stay so as not to lose their cash.
If you decide to book this project, then do so through the WFFT website (www.wfft.org) as you will save considerable money. Globalteer take a chunk of the money you pay them, so it works out more expensive.
A word about management at the WFFT: there are problems with managers and team leaders communicating with each other. We noted that the centre point of the problem is one manager called Tommy, he has everybody terrorised. The man has no concept of leadership or managing skills. Work was being allocated to volunteers without the provision of materials. A proper itinerary of supplies was not being kept and basics such as butter and water would not be available in the morning. When the matter was brought up, he would make excuses, that the floods in northern Thailand had halted supplies. However, upon visiting local shops butter was readily available. The fact remains, if there are supply problems, then you need to restock more than usual (especially as the floods had been around for the last six weeks) so he knew well in advance of the problems.
Worse still was his utter contempt for the volunteers. He seemed to get a kick out of embarrassing and shaming individuals whenever they complained or raised a query, and did so in front of all the other volunteers. Totally unacceptable behaviour, he seems to forget his place. Volunteers are there as just that, volunteers, they put in their time, effort and money to help with what they consider a worthy cause and should be treated with praise and appreciation. On more than one occasion we witnessed his deplorable behaviour on some of the volunteers. Some volunteers were ill or really tired and were too embarrassed to take time off because of the fear he put into people. He is not fit to manage a place like the WFFT.
Last but not least, these recommendations do not intend to put people off from coming to work at the WFFT. Animals at the centre are TRULY in need of help (both physical and economical) – if it wasn’t for the volunteers’ help and hard work, many of these animals would perish or continue leading terrible lives where they are constantly abused and mistreated.
However, volunteers have the right to know what to expect and to be prepared for the experience.
Hopefully this document will serve such purpose.
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