Wildlife Friends

Trip Start Dec 29, 2007
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Trip End Dec 12, 2008


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Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday 11th August

I got up early and made it onto my morning flight from Kota Kinabalu to Bangkok, stopping off briefly in Brunei, despite being taken to the wrong airport terminal by the taxi driver.

I thought a taxi from Bangkok down to Petchburi, where the Wildlife Friends Foundation's Wildlife Rescue Centre is, sounded a bit expensive and pointless when there are buses going there all the time, so I had decided to take the bus as far as I could and then phone for a taxi just for the last part of the journey.  It started off pretty easily, I just took a bus across Bangkok to the Southern Bus Terminal, and from there I got another bus to Petchburi.  That was when it all started to go a bit wrong...

First of all some Thai girls wanted to know where I was going, and when I showed them the address they were adamant that I was on the wrong bus.  I tried talking to the bus driver and ticket lady, but neither of them spoke English.  I showed them the 'Petchburi' page in my Lonely Planet book, which has the place name written in Thai, and they all argued amongst themselves for a while.  At one point they all told me I needed to get off the bus here, which I did, then they argued some more and the English-speaking girl told me I needed to catch another bus to get to Petchburi.  Which bus, and where?  This bus.  This bus?  Yes.  This bus that you just told me to get off?  Yes. 

Eventually I made it to the right stop, and from there I was supposed to phone the centre for a taxi, as the taxis on the street tend not to know where the centre is, and there are no car ones round here anyway.  But, the phone number I had for the centre turned out to be wrong so I couldn't contact them.  Some motorbike taxi drivers were trying their best to help me, and they all tried calling the number I had for the centre from their mobiles and three different payphones.  It was to no avail, and soon it was pretty clear that my only option was to go with one of the motorbike taxi drivers, who wasn't at all phased by my luggage (they fit entire families on those bikes) and confidently explained through various gestures that nobody knew where the centre was but that we'd find it no problem.  First of all we went to the local police station which was closed, then we went to his friend's house who pointed us in the right vague direction.  After about an hour I spotted a sign for the centre, written in English and Thai.  We sailed past it at quite a high speed and he ignored my shouts so I thumped him on the back repeatedly until he stopped, then made him drive back down the road so that I could show him the sign.  At this point he realised where we were going (he actually knew the temple on whose grounds the centre is based) so the rest of the journey was no problem.

I spent the evening getting to know some of the other volunteers at the centre, all of whom seem really nice.  I have three room-mates, Lucy, Michelle, and Marie, who just so happens to be from my favourite place in the world, Coromandel.  Dinner for the volunteers is cooked by Thai staff and it was really nice, with a combination of  Thai and Western dishes.  I have really missed being around animals so I was happy settling down to chat to other volunteers for the evening with a dog curled up with its head on my lap.

Tuesday 12th August

The working day here starts at 6.30am.  I had a good night's sleep and was awake before my alarm went off, listening to the gibbons telling us it was time for breakfast.  I was given today off but I didn't find that out until I'd already got up with everyone else.  There didn't seem to be any point in sitting around while everyone else worked, so I spent the early part of the morning chopping fruit for the primate breakfasts (there are about 200 macaques and gibbons here).  We had breakfast at about 8am, and then a volunteer called Marnie who has been here for a while took me for my tour around the centre.

In the afternoon my new friends Sarah and Sid, who are volunteering in the elephant section, took me to spend some time with the elephants while they gave them water.  Then I helped prepare more monkey food, and after that another English girl I had been chatting to called Sam took me to help her team prepare feeds for the nocturnal animals.  It was so nice to be able to feed the beautiful leopard cats and civets - I think dinner time is just about the only time you can get a good look at them.

That was the end of the working day so after showers I walked into the nearby village with a group of volunteers.  One of the centre's dogs, Samson, came with us.  We went to the shop and the internet cafe, although at that point somebody had to sit outside with Samson.  Don't get me wrong, they don't object to dogs in internet cafes here, it's just that Samson got banned because apparently he bit a child in the head last time he was there. 

We went back to the centre for another delicious Thai dinner, and then we all walked back into the village where everybody was celebrating the Queen's birthday.  We didn't really know what was going on but there was some sort of ceremony involving all the monks from the temple, and we were all given candles to light and put in plant pots.  Then we headed back to the centre and I spent the evening playing cards with some of my new friends.

Wednesday 13th August

Today I was in the team Primates 1 (volunteers get put on different teams each day unless they particularly want to stay on one team).  We started off by making the morning feeds like yesterday.  A couple of hours later we had to collect all the empty bowls, which I didn't like too much because some of the monkeys are really good at grabbing you through the bars.  Some of them even recognise new volunteers and will go out of their way to scare that person for their first few days! 

We repeated the same jobs in the afternoon, and during my free time in between jobs I read lots of the information and job manuals in the volunteer house to get a better understanding of how everything works here.

In the evening I went along with most of the other volunteers to Cha-am where there was a night market.  The group I spent my time there with set ourselves a challenge to buy one person a really tacky gift for under 60 baht (that's just less than a pound).  I bought Nat a truly hideous plastic pink diamante handbag, and Sid bought me a Hello Kitty puzzle and a cannabis-themed bracelet.  Dinner at the market was nice until Ali found a maggot in her corn, at which point we all promptly lost our appetites. 

Thursday 14th August

This morning I was on Primates 1 again.  I spent most of the day working on the same jobs as Helen, who is from Liverpool.  I get on really well with her, although I can't help noticing that all the people I'm making friends with are the people who will be leaving soon!  We did water duty for the primates, helped unload the food truck, and cleaned out a pond in an enclosure containing some pigs and a porcupine.  I don't think the porcupine likes me too much as he was really well camouflaged so I kept dumping piles of wet leaves on him by mistake.  We just spent the evening hanging around talking outside the volunteer house.  I enjoy that, there's a really nice, laid-back atmosphere here and everyone is friendly.

Friday 15th August

Today I was on Primates 2 with my room-mate Maria and my American friend Helena.  We cleaned out some macaque enclosures before breakfast, and spent the late morning and early afternoon doing enrichment.  Today we were to give enrichment to the solitary gibbons and macaques, which of course are the ones that need it the most.  They are only kept in solitary conditions if it is necessary for their welfare - many of the animals here are damaged in so many ways from the abuse and neglect they suffered before being rescued by Wildlife Friends.  For enrichment today we stuffed mashed fruit, fruit pieces and nuts into bamboo tubes, blocked the ends with fruit skins, and partially froze them.  The gibbons and macaques seemed pretty happy with those.

Our last job of the day was to scatter-feed handfuls of seeds in the macaque fields.  The fields are the largest, naturalistic enclosures that resident macaques are put into if they can't be released but can live in a normal social group and cope with the naturalistic environment.  It's nice to go there sometimes to watch monkeys behave like monkeys as it's so easy to get angry and upset by what humans have done to the other, more 'damaged' animals at the centre.  Anyway, my day of 'work' ended sitting around a macaque enclosure watching two babies who were divebombing into their pool repeatedly. 

In the evening a group of 7 of us (me, Sid, Sarah, Sophie, Helena, Nat and Ali) headed off to Hua Hin tonight.  Some of them are leaving, and the rest of us took tomorrow off so that we could all stay the night.  We stayed at a really fancy hotel called the Royal Asia, and it cost just over 10 pounds each.  We went for dinner and then spent the evening in a really nice bar that did good cocktails.  I had such a nice time and finished the night off with a late-night dip in the hotel's rooftop pool.

Saturday 16th August

We spent our morning lazing around by the pool before going to the beach for lunch.  I had the best tom yam soup (a spicy coconut soup with chicken, lemongrass and galangal) I have ever had and it's filling in nicely for the Malaysian laksa that I miss so much!  We separated into small groups and I spent the afternoon with Sophie and Helena.  We sat on the beach until the afternoon rain started, and then had a look round the shops and market before going to meet everyone at Mai Thai, the bar we were at last night.  Sadly we had to say goodbye to Sophie and Helena at this point before the rest of us headed back to the centre, as they are off travelling together, although I feel sure that I will see them both again.

Sunday 17th August

Today I was working on bears with Casey, Marie and Artur.  I enjoyed it.  Bears don't inspire me in the same way that the primates do, but they are still really interesting animals.  I enjoyed hiding their food all over the enclosures to stimulate their natural foraging behaviour.  I think the bears here have very good enclosures, really naturalistic with lots of vegetation and environmental enrichment to keep them physically and mentally active.  For enrichment we gave a whole coconut, still with the husk on, to Oompoom, the solitary bear.  It's true that the most simple enrichments are often the best!  He started off by ripping off the husk with his long, strong claws, but he had trouble getting into the coconut after that.  He tried repeatedly lifting it up high and dropping it on the ground, to no avail.  Then he moved to a different area of his enclosure so that he could drop it onto concrete rather than soft ground, but that didn't work either.  Eventually he went to his indoor enclosure where he could climb up onto his sleeping platform and drop it onto concrete from a greater height.  That did the trick, and after four or five more drops, Oompoom was feasting happily on his well-earned fresh coconut.

Monday 18th August

I was working with the bears again today, this time with Jade and a new Scottish girl called Rebecca.  I get on really well with both of them so it was a good day.  It's amazing how much the people you work with can impact your enjoyment of the work, regardless of what you're doing!  We did a lot of painting in the bear enclosures, which was hard work in the hot sun.  For enrichment we gave the 'school bears' tyres with chunks of fruit inside.  It seemed to keep them quite well occupied.  I spent this evening drinking with Sally, my friend from Guildford.  It's so strange that two of my closest friends here, Sally and Becca, live so close to me at home - I'm sure there will be a reunion one day!

Tuesday 19th August

Today I was back on Primates 2, my favourite team, with Marnie and Marie.  For enrichment we made little parcels from banana leaves, containing mashed banana and a rambutan (a small round fruit), tied up with vines.  The macaques and gibbons seemed to really enjoy them even if it did take us twice as long to make them as it took for them to destroy them.  I loved watching how each individual animal would find its own way of getting the parcel open, some ripping and tearing, others carefully unpicking the vine, and others biting the whole thing in half.

Tomorrow a few of the volunteers, Helen, Sandra and Gaynor, are leaving, so we had a few drinks together tonight.  We played lots of drinking games which ended quite badly for me when I had to drink the hideous concoction in the centre cup during Ring of Fire.

Wednesday 20th August

I was on Primates 2 again with Marnie and Marie today, paying close attention as Marnie leaves tomorrow and Marie will take the day off, so I'll be the one expected to know what I'm doing.  For enrichment we made banana leaf parcels again.  I had a few other duties too such as unloading the food truck and looking after the dogs, but that is normal and we still get plenty of breaks throughout the day.  Lots of people went out tonight so there were only about 8 of us left at the centre, which was actually really nice.  I like everybody who is here but sometimes it's just nice to have a small group.

Thursday 21st August

I worked on Primates 2 with Sophie today.  I get on well with Sophie and enjoy working with her so it was another nice day.  I think part of the reason I love this team so much is that I love the people I tend to work on here with!  We walked down to the area of enclosures that we clean each morning, only to find a large macaque sitting calmly outside one of the enclosures.  We didn't recognise him individually but he was clearly a large male with the potential to be very aggressive and dangerous.

Sophie went to get help while I retreated as far away as possible whilst still keeping the macaque in my sight.  Soon Emma, the volunteer co-ordinator, arrived on the scene and put out the 'ling lut' ('monkey out') message over the radio, which would hopefully be picked up by Edwin, the Thai animal keepers or Dr Yo the vet.  As it was so early in the morning help was a long time coming, and I was relieved when two of the animal keepers arrived on a motorbike.  Behind them came Mee En, the bear keeper, pedalling furiously on a push-bike to keep up with them.  Mee En is one of my favourite people at the centre, but I'll write about him in another entry.

Emma told me that the macaque was Noodle, a resident of one of the large macaque fields.  He had obviously worked out how to get round the elecric fence that keeps the animals in the fields.  When the Thai staff approached him with sticks and nets, he didn't seem at all phased and calmly wandered back into his field enclosure looking as if he couldn't quite understand what all the fuss was about just because he had decided to go for a morning walk. 

Soon afterwards I noticed that ChakChan, one of the baby macaques on my section, had a cut on his leg.  It may have been caused by Noodle as he did appear to be approaching many of the enclosures much to the aggravation of the animals inside, but that's pure speculation as I didn't see anything happen.  Later in the day little ChakChan was stitched up by Lucy and Yo, and was back to his old self almost as soon as the anaesthetic wore off.

The rest of the day was quite uneventful in comparison, and I was really tired so I had another early night.

Friday 22nd August

Today was my day off.  For the first time since arriving at the centre I slept with earplugs in last night, so that I wouldn't wake up when everyone got up for work at 6am this morning.  It actually felt quite unpleasant to wake up in silence.  Normally the gibbons wake up and start singing at about 5am, which in turn wakes up the dogs who all start barking and howling, and occasionally if we're really lucky (or unlucky, that's a matter of opinion though) the elephants will join in too.

For our day off Sally, Dom, Marian and I went to the local spa, Petchvarin Resort.  They offer a free taxi for wildlife centre volunteers, and when we arrived we found that we were the only customers.  It's so beautiful and peaceful there.  When we arrive we had lunch and a quick dip in the pool.  Then we went over to the spa area for some treatments.  I went in the steam room and then had a Thai massage.  I had heard plenty of horror stories about painful Thai massages but this one was really good.  I think going in the steam room first helped a lot.  It was like a combination of massage and yoga, only with somebody else doing your yoga for you.  The afternoon rain came down while I was having my massage and that was really relaxing to listen to.  After the massage I read my book while I waited for the others, who were having longer treatments.  The treatments sound lovely but I don't see the point when I'll be smelling of monkey poo again this time tomorrow.

We had an early dinner and an ice cream sundae before heading back to the centre, the whole day having cost less than 20 GBP.

Saturday 23rd August

Marie and I had a nice quiet day on Primates 2 today.  As a result of Noodle's repeated escapades (he apparently released himself from his field 8 times while I was at the spa yesterday), there have been lots of primate house-moves today.  The end result is that many of my favourite macaques from my section - Mia, Pokky, Patty and Daan - have been moved to an enclosure over near the gibbons, leaving me with lots of solitary males and a newly confined Noodle.  It's sad to see Noodle in a small enclosure after having adjusted to living in a field, so I will try really hard to give him lots of enrichments.  On a positive note George's abused girlfriend, Notsusu, has been released into the field that Noodle came from.  It does mean that George is now on his own in an enclosure, but I do hope Notsusu finds a nicer boyfriend out in the field.

It was Ali, Nat and Sally's last night so we had a few drinks together in the volunteer house in the evening.

Sunday 24th August

I was working with Marie on Primates 2 again today.  Nat and Ali left this morning, and Sally left this evening.  Those are a few of my closest friends gone, and the people I spend most of my spare time with, so the volunteer house seems pretty empty to me now.

Monday 25th August

Today I was doing food prep with Primates 1, and then jungle duty and water rounds with Eddie for the rest of the day.  Jungle duty means caring for the gibbons that live in large enclosures out in the jungle - feeding, providing them with water, and sweeping the jungle paths.  It was quite an easy day but 100% Deet wasn't enough to protect me from the mosquitoes in the forest.  I like being in the jungle though because the gibbon enclosures there are really nice.  They are built on stilts high up into the tree canopy so they are very natural and encourage the gibbons into the arboreal lifestyle that is natural to them and which so many of those raised as pets have never experienced.

QD, one of the volunteer house dogs, has been in hospital for the past few days.  She originally came to the Wildlife Rescue Centre after being in a road traffic accident two years ago, and has never left.  She's such a beautiful little dog with a lovely temperament.  She has an ear missing, a wonky jaw, is blind in one eye and can't breathe properly so she snores like a demon, even when she's awake.  Her latest operation was a skin graft, because an old injury on her leg keeps opening up where the skin is too thin to heal properly.  She was supposed to stay in the hospital for 10 days after her operation but she keeps escaping to come back to the volunteer house, and nobody really has the heart to send her back to hospital.  We'll take good care of her and we're all just happy to have our beautiful, broken little friend back.

Tonight we were lucky enough to be taken on an elephant safari by Noi and two members of the Thai staff.  We were all in the back of open-top jeeps that took us to a National Park about an hour's drive from the Wildlife Rescue Centre.  We saw a huge bull elephant near the roadside, followed by a large family group that blocked the road for quite some time.  We have elephants at the centre, but they are like a different species compared to these wild animals, having had their spirits completely broken by the training regime they went through in order to become street elephants.  Seeing these animals in the wild was a reminder of why we do the work we do, and I think it lifted everybody's spirits.
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Comments

abi1982
abi1982 on

Amazing
Sounds like a fabulous place to settle down for a few weeks. I want to go! What is it with you and meeting people that live down the road back home? The animals must be amazing x

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