Our second project for Global Vets was at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand located in Phetchaburi. This organization works with several different types of wild species, both native and foreign to Thailand. Most of the animals here have been rescued or surrendered to the facility. Thailand has a large pet industry, with a high demand for exotic or wild species. Often local individuals will buy wild animals when they are young because they are appealing due to their cute and cuddly nature. However they quickly discover that these animals are not meant to be pets as they are too aggressive or too difficult to care for as they grow older. As such they are often not provided with proper accommodations or food and their growth is stunted. In addition to this, Wildlife Friends also rescues elephants from various situations such as logging, trekking, street begging, and land mine accidents. If animals have had minimal human contact, are healthy and self sufficient, they are suitable candidates to be released back into the wild. Those who have been hand reared by humans, are unhealthy, or are not able to care for themselves, are unlikely to be released and are able to live out the most natural life possible at the sanctuary. Even if they have to live their lives at the facility, it is better than the conditions they were rescued from. It is fortunate they they are provided excellent medical care and nutrition at the facility.
During our stay at Wildlife Friends Foundation we were privileged to be able to witness how the sanctuary is run, as well as how to care for these rescued animals. For this post we decided to take a different approach by describing a day in the life of a wildlife veterinarian.
Our day began at 7am with cleaning and feeding all the animals that were receiving daily treatment in the clinic. These included long tail macaques, slow loris, iguanas, tortoises, owlets, as well as two stray dogs that were brought into the clinic after they were hit by cars. Following this we would head to the pond to fish for the 5 otters that live in the sanctuary. We would then take the fish and put them in the pond in the otters enclosure. This allowed the otters to learn how to hunt for themselves as these natural skills were not developed during their former lives as pets.
Next came our morning rounds. We all piled into the clinic truck and headed out to the elephants and sun bears. Many elephants received eye drops while others had abscesses (pockets of pus) that required daily cleaning. Elephant skin is approximately 4 cm thick therefore when infection develops drainage is very poor. As a result, an abscess often forms. Next stop was the sun bears. One bear in particular, named Nuru, had an ongoing skin condition. Tests were being run at a laboratory facility to determine the cause. However, in the meantime Nuru was on a daily regimen of fish oil and antihistamines in order relieve some of the itching. In order to give a sun bear medication we would grind up the pills into a powder and mix it with honey. We would then spread the honey onto a piece of bread to make a honey sandwich. Nuru loved her honey sandwiches, thus making our job very easy! Both Nuru and the elephant treatments usually took up our whole morning, so at this time we would break for lunch. Following lunch is when our routine would differ from day to day, depending on what cases arose. For example, one day a local brought his dog to the clinic as it had been hit by a car. One of the dog`s forelimbs required amputation, and so we were able to assist in that surgery. Another day a macaque who had an unknown history presented with a broken leg. We speculate that she either fell from a tree or was hit by a car. Her leg required us to apply a full cast in order for her bones to realign and heal. An iguana was brought into the facility as a rescue that was previously a family pet. Since the clinic already had one iguana in a small enclosure, we made a much bigger enclosure and allowed both iguanas to live there together. Whenever we had a small break throughout the day, we would do physiotherapy on the two dogs that had been hit by cars mentioned earlier. Both dogs suffered spinal cord injuries which left their hind limbs paralyzed. One had a personalized wheelchair that she liked to run around in. The other required some support in order to be able to walk. By the end of the week this dog was able to walk on her own with very little assistance. We were incredibly happy to see this much progress in one week.
These are only a few examples of events that came up while we were volunteering at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. Before heading home for the evening we would repeat our morning treatments as well as feed dinner to all the clinic animals.
We would like to thank Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand for hosting us and allowing us to experience wildlife medicine for the first time. Thank you to Dr. Zoe, Dr. Pang, and Tao for letting us be their shadows for the week! If you would like to learn more, volunteer, or make a donation to this organization please visit their website: http://www.wfft.org