2015, Southeast Asia

CKC grand finale: week #2 at Elephant Nature Park.

… And we’re back!  Our final project continues as we spend our second week at Elephant Nature Park,  working with the Elephants. This placement is one that our group has looked forward to since first planning our Global Vets trip last year. Elephant Nature Park is founded by an incredibly sweet and courageous Thai lady named Lek. Lek created ENP with the vision of rescuing elephants from abusive situations so that they can live out a peaceful life.  Elephants have traditionally been widely used in Southeast Asia for many purposes such as logging, circus entertainment,  street begging,  trekking,  and for religious ceremonies. However, in order for elephants to be used for such purposes they are first subjected to immeasurable cruelty and torture. Juvenile elephants are taken from their mothers in the wild, which often results in the killing of adult herd members as they try to protect the young . The young elephant is then forced into a restrictive enclosure and chained to undergo a process called “pajaaan”  or  “breaking of the spirit”,  whereby it is continuously beaten and starved for 7 days,  until it becomes submissive  to humans. This ritual is extremely cruel and often elephants suffer permanent vision loss or other disabilities . Elephants are then sold for use to industries such as logging where they are worked,  without rest or proper nutrition, until their eventual death. Elephant Nature Park aims to educate visitors of Thailand about the cruelty behind elephant usage and to encourage avoiding activities such as riding or circus entertainment. Instead, please consider visiting or volunteering at rescue facilities such as ENP where elephants are able to live free from abuse. Many programs are now available whereby visitors  can interact with and pamper rescued elephants. If you would like to learn more, please visit http://www.saveelephant.org.

During our week at ENP Elephants,  we were very thankful to be able to work with the veterinary team. Each day,  we would begin by doing our morning round of treatments. Many of the elephants with injuries here are due to abscesses and land mine accidents. Land mine injuries are quite common in Thailand Elephants –  whether due to remnants from war or from intentional placement by humans.  Other common illnesses are eye and ear infections. Since elephant skin is about 4cm thick, treating these injuries often becomes a long process, sometimes requiring years to fully heal,  even with twice daily cleaning. In order to clean the wound,  the affected area is scrubbed with Clorhexidine (an antiseptic solution) and then rinsed with water and iodine. To protect the wound from debris, the area is then sealed with an aerosol antiseptic spray. As these elephants are free to roam the park throughout the day, it’s vital to try and keep the affected area as clean as possible.

Claire and Big completing a daily foot cleaning on a young elephant
Claire and Big completing a daily foot cleaning on a young elephant
Dr. Jib expressing an abscess
Dr. Jib expressing an abscess

Along with daily treatments,  we also assisted with other interesting tasks that we had not anticipated.

1. One elephant presented with signs of “bloat”. These signs include constipation, lack of appetite, painful abdomen and restless behaviour. In order to relieve the animal and encourage intestinal movement the veterinary team administered pain medication and an enema with warm water. As one can imagine,  giving an elephant an enema is not an easy feat! To our relief, the following day the elephant was back to its normal self eating and drinking again!

2. Another interesting thing we got to witness was a male elephant named Hope undergoing musth. Musth is a periodic condition characterized by an increase in both testosterone and pressure in the temporal gland,  thereby resulting in intense pain within the elephants head, something similar to a bad headache. Both the pressure within the skull and increased testosterone levels can lead to aggressive behaviour. Each time a male elephant goes through this period in its life it can be equated to a human going through  puberty. Musth is a time in which elephants are likely to breed and fight with other males. Therefore,  an elephant in this state is dangerous to both humans and other elephants. At this time it is important for Hope to be isolated to a separate area in order to keep himself, his handler, and other elephants safe.

Crystal injecting iodine solution into an abscess to clean the wound
Crystal injecting iodine solution into an abscess to clean the wound

3. During our week with the elephants we also had the opportunity  to meet and observe the Positive Reinforcement Trainers,  Chrissy and Jodi. They work daily with the elephants to teach them how to present themselves for medical care and cooperate during these treatments. This initial training is important for elephant handling and for routine check up and treaments. Positive reinforcement involves rewarding a desired behaviour with a tasty treat to encourage future performance. Traditionally,  elephant training has revolved around using force and deprivation in a process known as “crush” to control their behaviour. ENP is breaking new ground by using positive reinforcement instead of the traditional methods to ensure the animals are treated in a humane and ethical manner.

Katelyn scrubbing a landmine injury with chlorhexidine solution to clean the wound
Katelyn scrubbing a landmine injury with chlorhexidine solution to clean the wound

4. We spent one afternoon measuring the circumference of several elephants.  This measurement is taken just behind their front legs,  around the trunk of their body in order to estimate body weight. This enables the vets to calculate proper medication dosages and also helps to monitor weight fluctuations.

Dr. Tom scanning an elephant for its microchip
Dr. Tom scanning an elephant for its microchip

5. Recently ENP rescued approximately 20 new elephants. These elephants arrived with records of their microchip numbers. One of our tasks was to scan each elephant to ensure the number the scanner was reading matched our records. Surprisingly,  an elephant microchip is approximately the same size as microchips found in dogs and cats!

We had an amazing week working with this incredible species and learning from their medical team! We would like to thank Dr. Jib, Dr. Tom, Big, Chrissy, and Jodi for teaching us not only about elephant medicine,  but also how to speak Thai!

Our incredible mentors  Dr. Tom, Big,  and Dr. Jib. Team elephants!
Our incredible mentors Dr. Tom, Big, and Dr. Jib. Team elephants!

We cannot believe that this week concludes our time as Global Vet’ers. We have learnt so much and will carry  these memories and experiences with us forever. We have met so many incredible people and have been shown such generous hospitality during our time in Thailand. Thank you everyone, from the bottom of our hearts!

Bittersweet goodbyes. We had an incredible two weeks at Elephant Nature Park!
Bittersweet goodbyes. We had an incredible two weeks at Elephant Nature Park!

Cheers  &  as our Thai friends would say,  set lao! 😉

– Crystal , Katelyn &  Claire


2015, Southeast Asia

CKC: Elephant Nature Park Part 1 – dogs!

Our third project takes place at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai,  Thailand. As the name suggests, ENP is home to over 60 rescued elephants from across Thailand. However, since the Bangkok Flood of 2011, it has also opened a separate clinic for rescued dogs. Initially, the ENP staff traveled to Bangkok with the mission to rescue elephants from the flood. However,  they quickly realized that many dogs were also left homeless when their owners evacuated the area. As such, the ENP dogs division was formed and they were able to rescue 155 dogs. Through their dedication and hard work,  ENP staff were able to return almost all the dogs to their respectful owners.  Since then, ENP Dogs has grown to become home to over 450 dogs.


This week we worked alongside 6 other volunteers at the dog and cat shelter. Adam and Sabrina, the volunteer coordinators, guided us through our daily activities including cleaning kennels, bathing, feeding and walking dogs. After completion of the morning duties, we had the opportunity to work with Dr. Toy and her veterinary assistants, Ben and Arm. We assisted in daily treatments such as wound cleaning, eye checkups and administering fluids to older patients with kidney failure. In particular, one of our most important tasks was to nebulize dogs that had been recently diagnosed with lung infections. A nebulizer is an instrument that vapourizes liquid antibiotic so it can be inhaled into the lungs of the patient. During the treatment, the animal is placed in an enclosed space with the nebulizer and breathe in the vapourized antibiotic air for a set time of 20 minutes. We are currently awaiting transtracheal wash results to determine the root cause of the infections.

A pup getting his daily nebulizer treatment. The cage is enclosed so that the antibiotic  air is breathed into the lungs of the patient.
A pup getting his daily nebulizer treatment. The cage is enclosed so that the antibiotic air is breathed into the lungs of the patient.

During our first days at the clinic,  a few patients were suspected to have ringworm since there were already two confirmed cases. After performing a culture on the skin lesions from the suspected dogs, we were relieved to find that they were negative for ringworm. Contrary to its name, ringworm does not involve worms at all, but is in fact a fungal skin infection that is highly contagious to both humans and animals.  As such, the two confirmed cases are currently in isolation and receiving treatment, and a sanitation protocol is in place to help contain the infection. We are hopeful that this will help prevent the spread of ringworm to other dogs at the facility.

Dr. Toy and vet technician Ben using a Wood's lamp to check for ringworm. Some fungus will fluroesce under UV light,  which can be helpful when diagnosing for ringworm.
Dr. Toy and vet technician Ben using a Wood’s lamp to check for ringworm. Some fungus will fluroesce under UV light, which can be helpful when diagnosing for ringworm.

Another interesting case we saw this week was a young puppy that had bilateral fore and hindlimb muscle paralysis. When he first arrived, the history given by his owner did not indicate possible spinal trauma. Moreover, the symptoms exhibited by the patient reassembled a recent case at the clinic of neospora. This parasite is found within the muscle of cows and dogs often contract it by consuming contaminated uncooked beef products. The parasite then travels in the body of the host (dog) and encysts in the muscle, thereby causing paralysis. Our patient was treated symptomatically with a course of clindamycin antibiotic and twice daily physiotherapy. He also required us to manually express his bladder, as he could not urinate on his own.  When we took the dog out for its daily therapy, he initially required 100% support but quickly progressed to only needing a sling for support when walking. By the end of the week, the patient was able to walk without support and relieve himself! It was very rewarding to see the vast improvement and he was able to return home to his owners after just a week at the clinic.

Our neospora puppy resting in his kennel after his walk and physiotherapy
Our neospora puppy resting in his kennel after his walk and physiotherapy

Throughout the week,  Dr. Toy also performed sterilizations on local dogs. ENP encourages population and disease control in the community by offering free surgeries to locals who bring in their pets.  After observing and assisting in a few surgeries earlier in the week, Dr. Toy graciously offered us the opportunity to perform a canine castration under her guidance. Our patient’s name was Latte and we are pleased to say that the surgery went smoothly and he had a successful recovery.


Lastly, ENP Dogs has a great adoption program in place. If you are interested in adopting any of their dogs,  please visit their website (www.saveelephant.org) for more information and pictures of the adorable pups in need of a forever home. The staff are very knowledgeable and helpful in organizing overseas adoptions.


We would like to thank Dr. Toy, Adam, Sabrina, Ben and Arm for hosting us this week at ENP Dogs. We had a blast working with the staff and volunteers,  and will miss all the adorable dogs here!

… Up next, ENP Elephants!


2015, Southeast Asia

DRJ: A Week in the Dog House

This week we volunteered at the dog and cat shelter at Elephant Nature Park. ENP is not only a sanctuary for rescued elephants, it also has many other animals including water buffalo, cows, ponies, goats, birds, monkeys, cats and over 400 dogs. During our time at the centre we were able to be involved with the veterinary care of all of these animals, including vaccinating 70 water buffalo against foot and mouth disease.

Rose, Julie and Daniella vaccinating water buffalo in the wooden chute constructed for this purpose!

In 2011, there was massive flooding in Bangkok. Many people were evacuated, but they were unable to take their pets with them. As a result, thousands of dogs were left stranded. Lek, a lover of all animals, had to do something to save these poor dogs. Her and her team rescued over 2000 dogs. They did their best to find the dogs’ original owners or adopt them to new homes. Lek and her team at ENP brought 155 dogs home and over the past 4 years the number of rescued dogs has reached 450 dogs as people have brought strays or abandoned dogs to be cared for. Lek’s husband, Darrick, started the shelter and it is has been gaining popularity ever since.

The dog shelter also has a cat and dog clinic where we spent most of our week working. The clinic provides free veterinary care for animals in the nearby village including spays/neuters and vaccinations.
Our days volunteering were spent helping the vet do daily treatments for all 40 dogs and cats in the clinic. Many of the animals had bite wounds which we cleaned and gave an antibiotic injection to prevent infection.

Here is Julie with Pierre, one of the cats being treated for a bite wound in the clinic.
Here is Daniella with Mama Joe, a dog that was treated for a cyst in her neck.
Rose and Zombie getting ready to administer the subcutaneous fluids that he received twice daily for renal support. Note the stylish jacket Zombie is sporting as the caring staff at ENP deemed 26 degrees too cold for him!

We also helped with the incoming cases such as a seizuring dog, a dog with respiratory problems and even a duck with a luxated patella! When we weren’t helping the vets, we spent a lot of time de-ticking dogs. Tick borne diseases are a huge problem at the shelter, especially during the summer. Many of the dogs are subclinically infected with ehrlichia and anaplasma and the clinically ill ones are treated with doxycycline for 28 days.

We saw a lot of interesting cases during our week at the dog shelter, but our most memorable case was a 6 week old puppy named Scully. Scully came in on our first day with hind end paralysis. Her owner said a book was accidentally dropped on her. She had complete hind end paralysis with no reflexes, no deep pain and dribbling urine. We did an X-ray and found a fracture on her L4 vertebrae but no signs of compression to the spinal cord. We kept Scully overnight and when she wasn’t improving, one of the staff members Adam, took her home. He would express her bladder and bathe her constantly. She was put on prednisone to decrease inflammation and further damage to the spinal cord as well as tramadol for pain management. The staff at ENP have been in contact with a vet from the US and they would like to fly her to have surgery. Since she does not have all her vaccinations yet, they don’t know if it’s possible. At this point, Scully will be kept comfortable and if she does have permanent hind end paralysis, she will live her life in the Steele run. The Steele run is home to a few paralyzed dogs who are very well taken care of. They have constant supervision, physiotherapy every day and they get taken on walks in their little wheel chairs. We hope for the best for our little friend Scully and we know that the staff at ENP will do everything they can for her.

-Daniella, Rose, Julie

2015, Southeast Asia

DRJ: A Week with the Elephants

After 3 weeks of independent travel through South East Asia, our team was excited to begin our first week of volunteering at Elephant Nature Park.
Elephant Nature Park, sometimes called Elephant Heaven, is located in Chiang Mai Province in northern Thailand. ENP is a sanctuary for 44 elephants mainly rescued from the logging and tourism industries. Many of them came from extremely abusive situations or suffer from chronic injuries. In Thailand, all elephants are “broken” using a traditional method called Pajaan. During the Pajaan a young elephant is placed inside a small cage and deprived of food and water while being regularly beaten until it submits to human instruction. Traditional elephant training relies entirely on the elephants fearing their handlers too much to disobey them. Elephant Nature Park uses only positive reinforcement training (using food as a reward) with their elephants. They hope to educate the public so that there is more awareness of the abuse elephants undergo in the elephant tourism industry in Thailand and other countries in Asia. ENP also has an Elephant Ambassador Program where people can volunteer to speak out against elephant tourism in their own communities.


Krissy and Jodi work on training Dani.  They strictly use positive reinforcement to train the elephants to perform certain behaviours necessary for medical tratments. Dani put her foot up to be treated by choice and is rewarded with watermelon. If she puts her foot down, nothing happens, she just doesn’t get any treats!

During our time volunteering at ENP we had the great opportunity to shadow the elephant veterinarians here. Many of the rescued elephants have chronic injuries that need to be treated daily. Some of the elephants we helped with had landmine injuries, dislocated hips, broken backs and abscesses galore. After the first morning we were able to clean their wounds, flush them and spray with protectant. By far our favourite elephant is Khun Dej. He is a fiesty little 2 year old rescued from a national park where he was found with his foot caught in a snare trap. He has been living at ENP and he is treated twice a day by the veterinarians here. His bandage is changed twice a day and then covered with a leather waterproof boot so he can go play in the mud and wander through the park with the other elephants. His two friends Saree and Dani wait around patiently every day for his treatment to be finished. It is heartwarming to see them all amble away together afterwards. Every elephant that comes to the park is allowed to integrate into the family group of its choice. Many of the baby elephants have nannies who look after them like their own children.

Julie cleaning a healing land mine wound for Malaitong as she munches on some watermelon.


Kuhn Dej, a baby elephant that was caught in a snare has his daily bandage change while his friend Saree waits impatiently for him to be done so they can go play in the mud together!

Friday was by far our most exciting day at the park. 5 new elephants were rescued and arrived within a few hours of each other! The first elephant to arrive was 70 year old Noi Nah who was from a tourist trekking camp. Lek Chailert (the founder of the park), a documentary film crew, 2 vets and several volunteers accompanied Noi Nah on her 22 hour journey to ENP. When she finally arrived and disembarked from the truck she looked extremely emaciated. The volunteers who had made the journey to bring Noi Nah here told us that at the camp she came from she was constantly chained, and that the other 40 elephants there looked as she did. The owner of the camp contacted Lek because she is too old to work. We learned that Noi Nah’s trainer or “mahout” didn’t feed her or give her water for 7 days if she misbehaved. We also found out that she was still being used to carry tourists on trekking trips up until 2 days before she arrived at ENP. Given her poor body condition, is it hard to imagine her having to travel long distances every day carrying tourists. The other 4 new elephants are two pairs of young elephants and their mothers confiscated from a circus. They physically appear to be in better shape, but the one mother was separated from her calf when it was young and she doesn’t recognize it now.

70 year old Noi Nah arrives at ENP after being rescued from a tourist trekking camp.

Currently the elephants are resting comfortably and eating well in their own enclosure in the large animal clinic at the park. Each elephant has been assigned its own personal mahout, who will work to develop a relationship with their assigned elephant. New mahouts are slowly developing a relationship with these new additions to the park. In a few days the park veterinarians will begin testing the elephants for parasites and diseases such as tuberculosis, as well a continuing to monitor their progress. Noi Nah is undergoing an intense nutrition program where she is fed vitamins 7 times a day and given access to grasses all day to help her gain back condition. Noi Nah should hopefully be at an ideal weight in 7 months.
Volunteering with the elephant veterinarians this week has been an amazing experience. Next week we will remain at ENP, volunteering at the cat and dog shelter here. We are excited to see what other adventures and learning opportunities come our way.

– Daniella, Rose, Julie

2015, Southeast Asia

JMS: Elephants at Elephant Nature Park

We began our journey a week and a half ago flying from Toronto to Chiang Mai, Thailand. We took a few days to adjust to the time change and experience some Thai culture before we were picked up to head to Elephant Nature Park.  They picked us up in an air conditioned van (I was very excited), and we traveled an hour and a half from the city to get to ENP. We knew we had arrived when we could see elephants wandering freely across the fields, their mahouts keeping a close eye.

 The first day we had an orientation. We learnt about how many of the elephants came to the park after experiencing terrible abuse in the logging and tourism industry.  Lek, the founder of this park, often finds these abused elephants and purchases them or convinces their owners to allow them to live out their lives in this wonderful park. They strongly believe in people working to keep the elephants happy rather than the elephants working for people, so the elephants here have a pretty great life.

On day two, we met Dr. P, Dr. Jip, and Dr. Tom and started following them around to learn how they treat different elephant wounds. Unfortunately after only an hour, I slipped and twisted my ankle, resulting in a half day at the hospital getting X-rays taken. I left a few hours later with a splint and crutches. ENP was amazing with helping us out with our hospital visit.

Day three we really got into treatments with the elephants. We start off the day cutting up dozens of watermelons that we feed them continuously as a treat during treatments. Having watched the treatments once, the vets let us try. We started off with my favourite elephant, Khun Dej. Khun Dej is only 4 years old and was rescued after having his front foot caught in a snare. For the rest of the week we did daily treatments of his foot, and then he gets a bandage put on before he gets to run wild across the grounds with his adopted family.

 We also treated Sri Prae, an older elephant that has land mine wounds on her foot. We feed her watermelon for 20 minutes while she stands in a medicated foot bath. She tolerates it very well as long as you keep the watermelon coming!

Next we hop onto a golf cart (super helpful for my ankle on crutches), and head across the grounds to treat more foot wounds and abscesses. Each elephant gets a basket of fruit as a treat during their treatments. Then we repeat the treatments in the evening, as well as handing out banana balls filled with vitamins to some of the older elephants. We always make sure to bring extras to spoil some of the elephants that don’t need the vitamins!

We also assisted in treatments on a pig with a laceration in her vulva, a goat with a fungal infection, and a horse with an abscess in his hoof.

 During the evenings at ENP, we had the opportunity to meet other volunteers from around the world and enjoy the beautiful scenery.  As well, they had a few evening ceremonies where they taught us about the culture, and attempted to teach us some of the very difficult Thai language.

Next week we’re off to help with over 400 dogs at the Elephant Nature Park Dog Rescue.