A day in the life of a WFFT worker… what an emotional yet rewarding experience.
In Thailand, exploitation of animals is unfortunately very common. Many animals are poached from the wild and killed for their babies or drugged and mistreated and taken into the busy city streets to be used for money from tourists. They are trained by fear and abuse for a short period of time and then killed or abandoned. I understand the temptation and the thrill of petting a tiger or snuggling a monkey. I’ve been there and wanted these experiences too, until I was informed. Many tourists partake in these activities without even realizing the torture the animals have been through.
Did you know all the pain and abuse elephants go through for elephant trekking? I did not. Elephants are trained at very young ages where they are taken away from their families, confined to cages where they can’t move, and starved. They are beaten with sticks and poked with hooks in order to become obedient to humans. The process actually has a name! It’s called “crushing“. It is given this name because it’s meant to crush the elephant’s spirit to allow him/her to become submissive. Many continue to use the hooks on the elephants after they’ve been initially trained to keep the them obedient. Not to mention, elephant’s spines are not fit to be ridden. Continuously forcing them to hold large amounts of weight on their backs causes long term harm to their spines and feet. If elephant trekking is on your bucket list, please, please reconsider. I wish I had been educated before riding an elephant in Africa years ago.
WFFT’S main objective is to rescue animals who are living in poor conditions and neglected or are sick or disabled. WFFT rescues these animals who have suffered under human control. The organization aims to provide the animals with a sanctuary as close to their natural habitat as possible with the best care they possibly can give. WFFT will release animals when possible, otherwise they provide the animals with a lifetime of care. The organization also aims to educate people to not partake in the exploitation of animals. Education is so important, because if more were aware, one would hope that the demand for elephant rides, pictures with tigers, etc. would decrease.
Myself and two other Webster students decided to book a day experience at WFFT. The day experience includes a tour of the grounds, learning about the organization and the animals, helping out by walking, feeding, and bathing an elephant, and then feeding the bears. I will share my experience with WFFT by giving a walk through of how the day went:
9am: Eliot, Teri, and I were picked up from our apartment complex and taken to the Wildlife Rescue Center. During our van ride, we were shown a video (about 30 minutes)about WFFT which explained the different stories of the animals and how WFFT has helped. Very heart wrenching to watch. The organization has rescued elephants, different types of monkeys, bears, lorises, an otter, cats, and dogs to name a few.
9:30am: When we arrive we have a drink and meet Tanya, our English tour guide. She introduces herself, then gives us a rundown of how the day will look.
10am: We start the day off with a tour of the Wildlife Rescue Center. We visit most of the 350 animals that have been rescued. There’s a monkey here with no legs. It’s sad to watch her try to move around, but the other monkey in the enclosure watches after her and she seems to be happy.
The grounds are not quiet though, as we are introduced to some very loud monkeys. Squeaking and swinging around like they are mad. One monkey looked like he swallowed a baseball in his throat and he made a sound like some sort of loud obnoxious horn.
The otter we meet is super sweet, but we arent told his story. Tanya feeds him some fish, but he clearly wants more. It’s too adorable. I think I’d give in to this cute little face and just feed him the whole bucket!
12pm: it’s time for lunch. Rice, meat, and veggies are presented in a buffet style. We settle at a table directly across from one of the elephant enclosures. It’s very peaceful to eat and watch the elephant.
After lunch and before it is time to go to the Elephant Refuge, I decide to go over and sit by some monkeys and am immediately greeted. I make a kissy sound to one of the monkeys and the monkey mimics me. Cracking up, I called Teri over to show her, but the monkey wouldn’t do it with her around. When she left, sure enough, he did it again. Heres proof:
Boonmee’s story is very touching. She was rescued in November 2012 from a trekking camp because she was too old and slow for her workload. Boonmee was very underweight, completely blind in her left eye, and had a bad sore on the back of her front left leg when she was rescued. She is 57 years old now and is good size, however she is still receiving daily vet care for the sore, and you have to be careful where you stand as she is permanently blind in her left eye. Boonmee needs to be showered daily to make sure her sore is kept clean and to prevent infection. She also suffers from colic and needs to be taken for a walk daily. It is rewarding to be able to care for her.
Tanya grabs a large bucket
of fruit and Boonmee meets us for her daily walk. She is given a piece of fruit for every 5 steps she takes, so we bring the bowl along with us.
I’m counting to 5 in my head and giving her fruit only then, however she is quite impatient and would prefer food for every step! Boonmee eats her food very quickly, and Tanya tells me she’s always in a rush when she eats. This is very common with working elephants as they were always rushed when eating.
Boonmee keeps flinging her trunk on me and breathing asking for more fruit. It’s hilarious because it’s a huge gust of air when she does that. I’m telling her to wait patiently and do not give in to her begging. The bowl has the last the entire walk so I can’t be caught feeding her too much all at once.
As I place the food under her trunk, she latches on to it, curls it up in her trunk, and places it in her mouth. Her trunk is so slimy and wet, and I have elephant slobber and fruit gunk all over my hands now, however I am not minding it one bit. She is so gentle and sweet and I’m really enjoying my time with her.
The others walk and feed Boonmee as well and we head into the woods to continue the walk. It gets windy and at first Boonmee is hesitant to enter the woods. Tanya informs us that Boonmee is afraid of the wind and sounds from the woods. Eventually she follows us in.
2pm: Our walk with Boonmee is finished and we need to give her a shower. She is given another bowl of fruit poured into a tub of water to keep her preoccupied while we shower her. One of us uses the hose, being mindful of her ears and eyes, and the rest of us use the scrubber brushes to scrub her. They are the brushes on the long poles so we can be sure to reach her entire body. Her skin is so thick and leathery, we need to scrub thoroughly to make sure she is getting clean. She is completely preoccupied with her fruit in water that she hardly minds us.
The funniest part was trying to scrub behind her ears and her trunk. I love her trunk, it has this patch of tan on it covered with dark gray speckles. I think this is common in Asian elephants as I am seeing this tan patch on many of them here.
3pm: When Boonmee’s shower is finished, we wait for a truck to pick us up to go see the rest of the elephants. I think Tanya told us there are 12 elephants total; one male the rest female. The male elephant is hilarious. He doesn’t like the dog. The dog goes up to the enclosure and barks at the elephants and the male is annoyed by this. So he picks up rocks with his trunk and throws them at the dog. We approach the gate with caution, and sure enough, the cycle begins. The dog barks at him, and he finds a rather large rock with his trunk and flings it at the fence in our direction. Thank goodness he doesn’t have good aim. The rock hits the fence with a “ping” and falls to the ground. Unsatisfied, the elephant finds another rock. We feed another elephant and head back on the truck.
4pm: the last thing planned for the day is to feed the bears. Yes, I was a bit nervous when I heard this as well. Feed a bear?! Hmmm… However, it is not what I was imagining. The bears are put into their indoor cages and we are given baskets of food to hide in their outdoor enclosure. I am literally running around a bear’s habitat hiding its food like an Easter egg hunt! I’m trying to hide the food in sneaky places. When all the food is hidden, we step out and watch the bears in search for what we’ve just hidden. It’s quiet impressive how quickly they sniff around and locate the food. We even watch one climb up a tree.
While at the bear enclosure, we meet the sweetest cat. If it were possible, I’d take this cat home in a heartbeat. The boys would absolutely love her. She’s white with orange and black spots, and was rescued as a very small kitten, too young to be away from her mother. The cat meows a lot for attention, but when you pick her up she snuggles into your shoulder and purrs. Teri is obsessed with cats, so we both enjoy holding her.
5pm: This concludes our day experience with WFFT and the van takes us back to Sala. I bought a tank top at WFFT as I know I will be back. I’m already talking with Tanya about when and how often I can come back to help with the animals.
I am very passionate about organizations like this, attempting to rescue as many animals as possible. It was such a reward to be able to participate in their daily activities and I look forward to going back and helping as often as possible during my time in Thailand.
Please click here to learn more about this amazing organization and how you can help: http://www.wfft.org/about-wfft/
I hope you found this blog post informative and moving, just like the experience.