It's difficult to describe life here without experiencing it for yourselves, but i'll try! Waking up at 6am and gathering at the Volunteer House ready to start work at 6 30am...usually I'd be half asleep but I'm always so excited about cracking on with the day. Waking up to the gibbons calling out to each other or our centre dogs barking in chorus is pretty awesome.
I'm never tired here, I never get a headache and I never feel exhausted from the day's work. We compost and 'poop' and feed the elephants four times a day, as well as making fun fruit enrichments for their enclosures and banana balls twice a day too. Banana balls are basically elephant pellets mixed with some nutrient powder and smushy bananas to create balls that we then feed to the elephants who need extra nutrients and weight gain. It's a weird sensation to stand next to these giants and put a banana ball into their mouths as they lift up their trunks for you...if you're an animal lover you can't get better than this!
We also shower the elephants and take them for walks too. Watching them pull up trees out of the ground with just their trunks really brings it home to you how powerful they are. They're wild creatures from heart and should be living their days wild too. It's sad to know the reason why they're with us. Read on...
Over in Asia, using elephants to earn money is still rife and many elephants are used for the logging industry, tourism and street begging elephants. How do you think a giant creature with the power to break your bones in one twist of their trunks suddenly become docile and allow tourists to feed them or to ride on their backs all day? It's not because they're happy or trained with a loving hand. It's called the 'Phajaan' (The Crush). A traditional method of 'breaking of the spirit', the phajaan is not illegal in Thailand (I don't think) but the poaching of wild elephants is illegal although of course this still occurs. The phajaan is when the baby elephant is ripped from their mothers and tortured and abused for days into a life long submission. They're put into wooden cages, and will be starved, forced to stand for days on end whilst men burn their bellys, use ropes to pull their limbs and trunks in opposite directions and use an implement called a bull hook to cause serious wounds. Can you imagine this form of torture to a human baby? It's the same emotions and feelings for both the mother at a loss of her child and the baby elephant now suffering immense pain and torture.
Once the phajaan is complete the elephant is then pushed into hauling heavy trees etc in a logging industry or worked to the end in tourism so people can have a quick cheap ride and a photo taken. These graceful powerful animals become nothing more than a tool to earn some money or a logging machine. The lucky ones end up somewhere where they can at least live out their last years in some form of peace...like the 9 we have at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.
Edwin, the Founder of the centre, has set out to try and help Thailand's animals and put an end to animal abuse. It's not just elephants he rescues, the centre has plenty of wildlife and many monkeys who have been chained up and left somewhere or used on the streets for tourists to pay to feed or hold. With a dedicated and loving Vet, 30+ volunteers at any one time and many long term helpers at the centre, the Foundation is always doing all it can to stop cruelty to the wildlife. Sometimes, it's a tough sight for those involved to witness.
I was walking back from the local shop only yesterday when I witness a young girl on the street 'feed' a stray puppy to a larger dog. The puppy was barely 8 weeks old and was literally screaming for its life as this dog tossed it around like a bit of dead meat. The girl encouraged this and pinned the puppy down for the dog to easily bite. I was lucky to be there and able to run down and stop the torture, and bring the terrified wounded puppy back to the centre. It's a difficult position for the centre to be in as we cannot house every stray puppy or wounded dog from the streets (there are MANY and as it is the resources are very tight with the 400 or so animals we already take care of daily) but I felt I would never be able to live with myself if I watched and let this dog rip the puppy to death. I acted upon instinct and saved an innocent life from brutal unneccessary death. Showing just how amazing the centre is, the puppy has been treated and is now recovering and we're looking for a new home to adopt and take care of him.
I cannot express enough how awesome it is here. I'd come back here over a 5* Maldives holiday in a heart beat - sure, you live in dirt and you never get a lie in and you clean up poo and go on heavy banana tree harvests, but the work you do for the animals to make their life better is a feeling beyond anything else. To know you make a difference to these animals who have already led a stressful and painful life is the best emotion I've ever had.