Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

During the summer of 2014, I knew that I wanted to travel to a country I had never been to before, but wanted something more than just the typical foreign traveler experience. After my internship at the Pittsburgh Zoo, Through some serendipitous searching, I discovered a B-Corp certified service called Animal Experience International. They place volunteers in responsibly and ethically run animal hospitals, rescues, sanctuaries and government programs around the world. Working with them gave me peace of mind that the experience I would have would be beneficial to both me as well as the organization and local community I'd be helping.

I went to Thailand for about 3 weeks to volunteer at Wildlife Friends Foundation, an animal sanctuary nestled in the jungles of Phetchaburi. They strive to rehabilitate, release when possible, and educate the public on the importance of wildlife conservation. Their founders have also been critical in lobbying for better animal protection legislation in the Thai government.

At the sanctuary, I spent two weeks working with the rescued wildlife in the jungles, and then another week with the elephants rescued from the horrors of the tourist industry. During this time, I helped to feed, clean, and provide enrichment activities for animals like gibbons, langurs, otters, bears, a cassowary, a binturong, and more. While there, I also became friends with other volunteers from all over the world with a range of different backgrounds but all brought together by this shared passion. This was my first experience with this kind of vacation abroad and it opened my eyes to all the future possibilities in "voluntourism." I loved being able to travel to a different country and experience the natural beauty and culture there while feeling like I was making a difference in the lives of these animals.

Bandit was a macaque born with only three fingers on her only arm. Nevertheless, she was the head honcho of her enclosure!

While I was there, we started to safely introduce the elephants to each other in a new, larger enclosure. Establishing a tight family herd was critical for such social creatures.

Many of the elephants came from abusive tourist or performance backgrounds, evident by the spinal damage, wounds, and tattered ears.

A baby gibbon observes her mother drinking from their water pail. One of our daily tasks was refilling water regularly, a challenge indeed with some gibbons who loved to dump out the buckets for fun.

Daily walks and showers helped to keep the elephants happy and healthy and allowed us to interact closely with them. This was a great alternative to the abusive practice of elephant trekking.

Juvenile gibbons, like the one giving me the stank eye here, were particularly lively and required special attention.

Baby langur monkeys required additional enrichments, like sunflower seeds stuck into corn cobs, to stimulate their growing minds.

Many animals, like this cassowary, were once kept as exotic pets and then either given away or abandoned when the burden became too much. This cassowary, a long way from its native habitat, had suffered brain damage after improper handling of its delicate, hollow crest.