As an Animal Management student at university i’m very lucky that i get the opportunity to work with some incredible animals. I can also combine my education and work with my passion for travelling.
Over two weeks in March 2016 i had to undergo work experience for my course, in pervious years i had taken the easy road and stayed close to home, but this time i wanted to do something that would really benefit my future career prospects and also see bit of the world we live in. So after a long time of searching and debating i came across a zoo in Thailand. Obviously, zoo’s in Thailand do not have the greatest reputation but this zoo/safari had really good reviews from other volunteers so i decided to go… on my own! This was the first time i had ever travelled long distance on my own (now i can’t stop!) so i was defiantly nervous but also incredibly excited at the thought of visiting such a beautiful country.
The flight was a long and tiring 13 hour flight from the UK, and as soon as the plane door opened the heat hit me. I did not realise before I left how hot it was actually going to be. The weeks I was there the temperatures were hitting 45 degrees! This was very different cold and rainy England, so it took me a few days to get used to the heat and the jet lag.
Once I arrived in Bangkok, I then proceeded to take a 3 hour taxi ride to a town called Kanchanaburi. The taxi driver was a local Thai man who couldn’t speak a word of English, but made me feel welcome and safe with a smile. Every so often he would mime eating or drinking to see if I needed to stop, and he even got me a pillow and put the seat down so I could have a nap!
Once I arrived at my hotel in Kanchanaburi, I was welcomed by the staff and they made sure I had everything I needed. The room was nice and comfortable and best of all, it had air-conditioning! I had a great night sleep, despite how nervous I was to start volunteering the next day. In the morning i had a lovely free breakfast sitting on the side of the River Kwai, then the hotel staff arrange for a tut-tut to take me to the meeting point where the zoo staff would pick me up.
I meet the zoo staff at the bus along with the other volunteers who wold be working there with me. I was quite nervous at this point as meeting new people has always scared me, so this was a big challenge for me. There were people all over the world volunteering with me, including people from Germany, Australia and France. The bus took about half an hour to arrive at the zoo, the view on the way was incredible. When we arrived at the zoo we stopped at the front offices to meet the boss and get assigned a room, i was room mates with a lovely German girl called Sophie, who now is one of my closest friends.
Once we were settled into our rooms we had a tour around the zoo and got to see all the different sections we would be working in. I was a general volunteer so the different sections i would be working on were the rescue centre, the safari zone and the elephants. The rest of the day we spent getting to know each other and the volunteers that were already at the park… and trying to get used to the heat!
During the two weeks i was there i spent time working on each of the different sections, but mainly on rescue because i fell in-love with the rescued animals there!
First off is the safari zone, here they housed zebra, giraffe, ostrich, emu, deer, flamingo, sun bears, tigers, lions and jaguars! they have so much space to roam and live, and the customers get to feed the giraffes and zebra while on the tour bus. A typical day on safari starts off with the morning clean. This can take a little bit of time but it has to be done! Once the clean is finished, we hop on a little truck with the bags of deer feed and go feed the deers. This is fun because as soon as the deers see you, you get mobbed! Then we painted some name signs and finished for lunch. The food was different everyday, but was mainly rice, chicken and a lot of vegetables. It was plain but filled you up!
The afternoon on safari is the most enjoyable! We drove out on the truck with food for the giraffes and zebra and then the fun starts. As soon as the giraffes spot you, they know exactly what is about to happen! They love carrots and leafy greens and we got to stand on the truck and feed them by hand, this was such an incredible experience. I never realised how big they were until i was face to face with one… well more like face to knee with one! We spent hours feeding them and taking pictures with them! Safari is a great day, but you defiantly need suncream if you burn easily like i do.
The next section is the rescue centre, which is also my favourite section. The different animals they look after here are rabbits, binturong, parrots, a cassowary, a gibbon, a blue langur, one stump tailed macaque, three pig tailed macaques and one long tailed macaque. All of these animals are rescued animals, most have been pets or used as worker animals. They have lived a very hard life so far and the volunteers job is to make sure they have as much food and enrichment as they need, to live a good and stimulated life.
I grew very attached to the monkeys here as they all have there own individual personalities.
Junior (the monkey pictured above) is such a lovely money who had such a sad start to life. He was used as a worker monkey to collect coconuts from the trees. The people who owned him would keep him locked up in a tiny cage and starved him to make sure he would work. When we got brought to the zoo he was terrified and wouldn’t leave the back part of his cage as he was was not used to having so much space! He would also stay away from everyone or try and attack them. After months of the volunteers spending time taking to him and giving him different types of enrichment he started to warm up to people again and he became settled. This was lovely to see and he is such a sweet monkey with a lovely and funny personality, and it’s really nice to be able to follow his story and help out in any way i can.
The next section for the general volunteer is the elephant section, here they have three female elephants and one male elephant. The male has an aggressive past so the volunteers are not aloud to work with him, but it is an incredible experience to see him wandering through the jungle. A typical day on elephants starts with the morning clean, after this we got to make sticky rice with fruit in and then hand feed it to the elephants, this is a lot of fun!
After lunch we can take part in some painting and maintenance as well as designing some enrichment for the elephants. My favourite activity by far is being able to walk through the jungle with the elephants, we then take them to the lake. Here they get to go in and cool off from the midday heat as well as being able to splash around and play in the water with each other. It is such a privilege to see this!
As well as working we also get a few days off, i went to a beautiful waterfall on my day off called Erawan falls. This is one of the most beautiful places i have ever been to in my life and i would highly recommend it! There are 7 levels of beautiful, natural waterfall pools to relax and swim in as well as cheeky little fish that like to nibble at your dead skin and give you a free spa treatment! This was definitely one of my best experiences in Thailand and i would love to go back again.
As well as the days off we also got to go out into the local town on a Wednesday night, here would would eat, drink, get a massage or visit the night market to have a bit of a shop. I met some amazing people while volunteering in Thailand, some of which i have become incredibly close to and will be life long friends with. The people really do make the experience, you live with them, work with them, party with them. You go through so many different emotions and i’m not ashamed to say that i was terribly upset when i had to leave and say goodbye to all the animals who i had been spending everyday looking after and the people that i had been living with! Since i left i have been back once and i will be going back in summer 2017! It really is a life changing experience and i would highly recommend it for anyone who loves animals and travelling. Thailand is such a beautiful country and it feels so good being able to help out by volunteering and it is an incredible way to see the world and meet new people, i can’t wait to go back again!