When you pay to ‘work’ generally it’s because it is something that has always been a dream of yours or it interests you or is something you may already be passionate about. I suppose your wondering why I keep writing ‘work’ in this way… Well people don’t always have the privilege of saying they love their job, I haven’t always loved every job I’ve ever done that’s for sure!
I found the Safari Park Volunteer programme online when Id decided it was time to tick my childhood dream off the ‘To do’ list… working with Big Cats! it was something id always dreamt about, I was amazed by the stunning creatures and wanted a hands on experience. Thailand, Kanchanaburi was were the safari park called home and that was fine by me! Thailand was somewhere I had always dreamt of going and so plans for my winter away began and before I knew it I was catching the rays on golden sandy beaches, jungle trekking, shopping at market stalls and much much more! It was incredible!
Was Safari Park what I expected on arrival?
Not particularly, no. To be completely honest I wasn’t 100% sure what I was expecting, I knew it wasn’t going to be up to standards to what we expect from the UK but nothing can prepare you for reality when something is there clear as day in front of you. The enclosures were too small or there was too many animals sharing the space, there wasn’t enough natural habitation surrounding them and some of the animals seemed in poor condition. I was horrified on my first day, scared that this is what I had donated my money towards, that I was contributing to this treatment and starting to think maybe I hadn’t done enough research?
By the end of my first day I started to realize and see that this was not related to the volunteer programme, there was a lot of work that was going to take a lot of time, commitment, patience, determination and courage to make these changes happen! It was clear to see the areas in which the volunteers were working, the areas seemed more welcoming and friendly with colorful name plaques on each enclosure and daily enrichment for each animal. Sitting and listening to stories of how the animals were kept years a go before the programme was unimaginable after meeting these stunning creatures its hard to think anyone could condemn them to such a lifetime of suffering, I started to realize how far the park had come in terms of education and animal welfare. Its going to be an ongoing development but everyday there is a new achievement and people are so passionate in making this happen they build with there bare hands and pay to ‘work’ to ensure they have done their bit for the animals they love.
I was proud to become a part of this team.
What are the benefits of paying to work… where does my money go?
Like all Voluntary work you are donating, if it is a free programme then usually donations are encouraged anyway. Yes, it may seem pricey and difficult to pull together when you are
then working for free with no income, however
the money goes towards the animals and trying to improve
their quality of life. The volunteers programme fee was contributed towards enlarging enclosures, collecting materials for building or enrichment and of course your own food, accommodation and water.
Was I well looked after and accommodated for?
Yes defiantly! I had 3 meals a day, everyday and snacks, my accommodation was very basic but I had everything I needed, bed, wardrobe, mirror, electric fan, en suite bathroom with a toilet, shower and sink. I was able to hire a scooter from the park and even though they were old and had the chance of needing repairs it would be repaired free of charge usually with in the same day, regarding it wasn’t my fault the bike had broken. There was an organised bus to take everybody into the City every Wednesday night with a collect and pick up time ensuring everyone is able to travel from and to the park safely when we needed to let our hair down for a few hours! There was always a friendly face about to ask for advice or instructions with things that were completely new to me! And the safari park is a big attraction in Kanchanaburi so you never needed to worry if taxi drivers knew where they were going!
Did I get to witness changes/development and help make a difference?
Most defiantly! These were the most rewarding memories of the whole experience, its what your there to see and when you see changes happening because you’ve all pulled together and made something happen, it feels really good!
During my time at the safari park I learnt that a lot of the Thai staff were uneducated and not entirely sure on the animals needs or the best way of handling things especially when it came to hygiene! They were friendly people and a lot of them loved learning from us volunteers, we would help them by suggesting better methods, giving ideas and showing them new skills. It is very easy to point the finger and call someone a bad person for the way they allow a creature to live but a lot of them do not know any better. It is ignorance that shadows them however when you see the conditions that the people are living with in then it all starts to make sense and you can sympathize on how things may have become they way they have after many years. These people are denied basic privileges, education, fresh water and health support all because they live among poverty. We sat in meetings with the safari park’s owners son, Mr Jo who was in charge of the park on a day to day basis, in the meetings we discussed what we felt was not right and what needed to change!
We discussed cleaner ways of disposing of animals once they had passed and making the park more educational for the visitors including signs to say why certain things do not take place at the park because they are cruel for the animals. With that being said a massive outcome of one of those meeting was completely banning elephant chairs from being used on the park, we explained how tourists are very aware due to many petitions that this was not acceptable and unfair for the elephants and the chairs were disposed of! We also discussed the elephant and crocodile show being banned however unfortunately that will not be able to happen at this period in time because in brings in to much money and with out the shows the park wouldn’t survive… so we came up with an alternative, making the shows educational. Instead of getting the animals to perform circus tricks to humor the customers then show them how they feed the animals, allow people to come up and have a go! show them how to remove stones from elephants feet, something that is bettering the animals at the same time as teaching.
With the elephants we were encouraged as volunteers to trek them bare back as we were not paying customers contributing because it would be nice to eventually ban the trekking all together, though some days it was the only way the elephants would go for a walk. This felt like the more reasonable option for the time being rather than watching them tied to a post all day long which in the wild is defiantly not natural for an elephant! A good friend of mine at the safari park was working with the elephants and pushing to better the quality of their lives. Recently there has been proof of that hard work paying off as the elephants have now been able to wonder themselves through the jungle and by the waters edge, with a 20 meter chain to allow them to roam and with no one on their back! They also currently have a mud bath on the way! The look in their eyes tells you that this is how they should be!
Unfortunately as part of their Buddhist beliefs it is illegal in Thailand to put an animal down/to sleep so animals were sometimes left to suffer in what was hardly gods waiting room. We discussed making an area for sick animals where they could be somewhere more peaceful and quiet where people could visit them and comfort them so they were not left alone and scared and I know this was something that caught Mr Jo’s attention and will be a development for the near future! We learnt that once an animal passes the park had been donating the skin and bones to universities to use for studies which is good if they wanted to encourage a more educational path running the park. There is also current donations going towards a Bear and Big Cat retirement home, somewhere for the elderly creatures to be left away from human interaction or being the ‘face’ of the park and somewhere for them to be left alone in peace in an environment that comforts their needs.
I witnessed Mr Jo taking action on the spot when something was not addressed correctly and you could see he was very interested to learn from us and make sure the safari park was being run at an up to date pace and not being left behind in a world of ignorance.
Another massive change that was agreed whilst I was there and has been built shortly after I left was enlarging Blue’s enclosure. Blue is a male Tiger, massive, beautiful and is also the face of safari, the parks ‘mascot’. He is the main attraction for visitors when they first arrive, he sits on a table and has his photo taken with the customers for what used to be 8 hours a day! Since the programme he is now sitting there for only 3 hours a day, however as brilliant as that is his enclosure is so dull and lifeless that I cant imagine sitting the rest of the day in there is much better! whilst I was there two of the volunteers who felt passionate about Blue having a more suitable enclosure donated enough for the building development to get started as soon as possible! brilliant! He now has a shaded area, an open area to sunbathe, a swimming pool (Tigers love the water!) and it is 3 times as big as it was before, he looks so much more lively and energetic which is incredible to see for a Tiger that always seemed so dopey and lethargic before. Baby steps are happening all the time and though in the big picture these are small changes reliant on donations, to those animals it is everything, it is their life and it is so worth the time and money!
Some people became very opinionated about the work I was doing on the safari park during my time in Thailand however I feel very strongly in my statement when I say what we were doing was not cruel in any way. We were not contributing to a lifestyle that is how it stands at present but we are pushing for a brighter future for these animals through are own love and compassion for the animals and it was happening and had been happening for years now, that was clear to see. Unfortunately these animals are already in captivity and it is not something I agree with in the first place, animals belong walking this earth just like we do but we can not change the fact that they are in captivity and a lot of them bred in captivity there for would not know how to survive in the wild through being hand reared and bottle fed as babies. I do believe however we can try to make the best out of a situation and that is what we were doing, by giving new toys, foods and enrichment we were keeping them active and engaged to prevent boredom. Also a lot of the animals are people reliant due to being hand reared so plenty of interaction was always a good way to challenge their minds.
My time at the Safari Park taught me so much and opened my eyes to a much bigger and very different world! I left the park feeling as if I had achieved something, whilst I was there I had a purpose and though I miss the animals more than anything! I wouldn’t have changed my time at the park only made it last longer if I could!
Paying to ‘Work’ was the best thing I ever did and the results were so rewarding!
To find out more about the Safari Park check out my ‘Contacts and useful links’ page where there is also a donations connection. Simply by selecting ‘International Smile’ in the header which will lead you to my other blog posts