|"A Wildlife Friends Meow, a tiger with neurological damage, is dried off after his morning hydrotherapy session." Copyright © Nola Lee Kelsey, All Rights Reserved
WFFT Voluntourists Respond to Thailand's Floods by Supporting Displaced Animals
Imagination works in the most peculiar ways. I cannot say why I thought of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) as being a small facility or being located near the heart of the beach community of Cha-am. Nor do I know why I assumed that they would be more concrete and cages than sprawling naturalistic habitats. I was wrong on all counts.
As most people know by now, in mid October flood waters began making their way towards Bangkok, Thailand decimating everything in their path. Ancient World Heritage Sites or modern housing projects, it made no difference. While most of the world was focused on the human toll, a few small rescue organizations from across Thailand stepped up for the animals. Soon the call went out for "dog-savvy" volunteers. Before I knew it, I was 650 km south of my Chiang Mai home, standing in WFFT's volunteer headquarters, getting an inside look at just how far astray my imagination had led me. So for this reason, I have chosen this issue of The VolunTourist Newsletter to introduce Supply Chain readers to what I previously missed, a true sanctuary for animals.
Background & History Of Global Glimpse
WFFT was founded in 2001, their volunteer program launched shortly thereafter in 2002. "One of the fist volunteers that arrived in 2002 complained to me that we had too few animals, as at the time we cared for just 40 individuals…", recalls Edwin Wiek, Founder of WFFT. The center now cares for over 400 wild animals rescued from captivity where they were maltreated or confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade.
Philosophy & Vision
WFFT believes in rereleasing animals into the wild when they can, but also in providing rescued animals a place to live out their lives in a sanctuary that is as close to their natural habitat as possible. This approach is marked by the many sprawling naturalistic enclosures blanketing the facility. Even their lake is dotted with islands, allowing individual gibbon pairs and family groups to live a life without bars or fencing. The foundation also runs a community education program, a gibbon release project, and as I learned firsthand, was willing to bring their resources to bear in order to aid domestic species during the recent disaster.
Focus on Volunteering
|"Like-minded volunteers from around the world working together and learning from each other is part of what makes voluntourism so rewarding." Copyright © Nola Lee Kelsey, All Rights Reserved
Volunteers traveling to WFFT most often have the option of working specifically with the elephants or with mixed wildlife. Mixed wildlife work includes primates, bears, birds, civets, clinic help, nocturnal, etc. They may even have the odd crocodile, horse or other unusual 'guests' around at any given time. Scheduled work within this department rotates, giving program participants the opportunity to experience the most diversity. Volunteers prep food, clean enclosures, and learn about the needs and issues involved in captive wildlife management.
A Day in the Life of
When working hands on with animals only three things are 100% predictable.
1. You will wake up early.
2. You will get dirty.
3. Animals are unpredictable.
No two days are ever the same at any rescue, especially when you work with species as large as elephants or as crafty as primates. Generally, however, volunteers at WFFT are awake early, sprinting off to their first round of feeding, checking on their charges, and taking care of a bit of morning clean up. Only after the wildlife is taken care of do volunteers have a chance to relax and enjoy their own breakfast. "Animals first", this is the true call of the wild.
That is not to say that life at the sanctuary is all work and no play. Long breaks are slated throughout the day, spreading out feeding and animal care work. Buffet lunches and dinners are provided and self-serve breakfast, with food provided, lets participants set their own morning schedule around the wildlife's needs. In addition, the sanctuary grounds themselves border on a ridiculously idealist level on perfection.
Except for the simple, shared volunteer accommodation (often two people per room with two rooms sharing a bath) travelers might think they were at a tropical resort. Trails wander past huts, under exotic trees and past elephants taking dust baths between mid-day meals. Dogs and cats nap harmoniously side by side. In the morning, I'd open my curtains to see chicken plucking around unchallenged in one of the sprawling bear habitats. Meanwhile, gibbons called from islands in the lake. As animal rescue goes, Wiek and his staff have created the atmosphere of a zoological Nirvana. This chilled-out atmosphere combined with the knowledge that you are helping animals in need makes the early hours and aching muscles significantly more tolerable.
|"For some cultural education, Krathongs were built by volunteers and floated away on the sanctuary lake as part of Thailand's Loi Krathong holiday. " Copyright © Nola Lee Kelsey, All Rights Reserved
Volunteers do have some opportunities to explore and immerse while at the sanctuary. WFFT is located in Thailand's Petchaburi province, about three hours south of Bangkok. Despite the Cha-Am address, the sanctuary is not directly in the beach town, but approximately 30 minutes inland, towards Kaeng Krachan - Thailand's largest National Park. With one day off per week, WFFT staff can arrange hired cars for volunteers to explore the area. In addition, groups often share taxis to Cha-Am or the larger city of Hua Hin (45 minutes away), after work allowing them to explore the beach communities and nightclubs.
Closer in, the sanctuary grounds themselves occupy an area at the back of a Wat Khao Luk Chang, a Buddhist temple. A five-minute walk across the temple grounds takes visitors to the town of Ban Tha Mai Ruak. Although not tourism-orientated, the town offers internet, an ATM, small restaurants, stores and evening markets. The largest takes place on Monday night and is a popular place to stock up on Thai food and goodies to have on hand back at the sanctuary.
WFFT also coordinates their own tourism opportunities. One the most popular events offered each month is an evening safari, where several foundation trucks take participant to a nearby national park in search of wild elephants, followed by a relaxing diner out. In addition, the staff arranges events such as cultural festivals for Loy Kraton and other Thai holidays, football competitions, game nights and more.
A look from the inside
|"When you and the animals begin to share the same facial expressions it is time to go home " Copyright © Nola Lee Kelsey, All Rights Reserved
One of the things that surprised me most at WFFT was the length of stays and the number of repeat volunteers. Many people were there for 1-3 months and were often travelers who had previously volunteered, then opted to return. I took this as a good testimonial for the program. I was also pleasantly surprised to find some older faces, couples, and plenty of diversity among the volunteers.
"It (WFFT) was the first place where I volunteered with animals and it is the reason that I have continued with animals. I had an awesome time there and met some wonderful people and some really amazing animals." - Jacqui Ralston, Serial Volunteer
Accommodations were basic yet comfortable with one nice touch being the Elephant Hut. Open most of the day "Ele Hut" had WI-FI, offered an onsite place to pick up drinks and snack foods, and was a social center away from the normal volunteer dining area.
As mentioned previously three meals per day are provided, a self-prepared breakfast with ingredients supplied, plus lunch and dinner which are served up buffet-style. Usually two 'omnivorous', two vegetarian and one vegan option were offered on the buffets. Volunteers wash their own dishes after meals. In addition, the center provides ample fresh fruit for all.
Wildlife Friends is by no means a 'vacation', nor is it a petting zoo. Animals come first. This is real work, and at 6 days per week it can be quite strenuous for some. However, travelers - volunteers - get to step outside their traditional lives, immerse in new experiences, lean about wildlife care and rise to challenges alongside a mix of like-minded travelers from around the world. For those who love and respect animals, isn't that escapism at its best?
|Nola Lee Kelsey, Author, Blogger, The Voluntary Traveler
To wrap up each Supply Chain article, I ask two questions of an entity. Here are the questions and the answers from WFFT.
What is the most valuable attribute a volunteer on this project should have? "A love of animals and willingness to work with other volunteers to animals benefit"
What is the most important thing a volunteer can expect to learn from participating in this project? "Hands on experience working with wildlife, plus an understanding of the threats facing animals"
Learn more about Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) at:
Organization Website: www.wfft.org
* * * *
I hope you enjoyed my latest Supply Chain column for The VolunTourist Newsletter. I look forward to introducing readers to many more unique voluntourism opportunities in the future, including more firsthand experiences. If you have any questions or comments, please send them to The VolunTourist Newsletter or email me directly at: Nola(at)NolaKelsey.com
Happy travels everyone!
Nola Lee Kelsey
Owner, Dog's Eye View Media
Rapid City, SD USA/Chiang Mai, Thailand
Nola Lee Kelsey is a freelance journalist and the author of multiple books on voluntourism, including 700 Places to Volunteer Before You Die: A Traveler's Guide and the Animal Addict's Guide to Global Volunteer Travel.
[Return To The Top]