adventure, animal behaviour, animal rescue, animal welfare, animals, arctic wolves, conservation, elephants, Oregon, passion, Thailand, White Wolf Sanctuary, Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, wolves
Thailand was a very different experience to everything I had ever been used to. I loved the place, the people, the weather, the animals, the scenery. The culture is incredible. New Zealand is relatively young; we don’t have the deep-rooted culture of other places that is written all over the colonised landscape.
I really enjoyed the company of the Thai people I got to know. Joy, one of the girls working at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, would greet me with a huge hug every day and a big smile. Mostly everyone would greet you with a smile, actually. And the boys – the mahouts – they were just so funny. It took effort to convince some of them to go out of their way to do something really good for the elephants; it was just a job for several of them. But being on good terms with the guys really helped, and I think the more passionate the volunteers around them were, the more they realised how important good care was for the elephants in their charge.
Working with the elephants was nothing at all like my internship with the arctic wolves in Oregon. The husbandry of the two species is completely different, as were the protocols and methods of the different organisations. At the White Wolf Sanctuary it had just been myself and the director most days, whereas at WFFT I was hardly ever alone. While I would often seek time to myself, to write and reflect on the day, it was a positive thing for me to be around so many chirpy people. I had gotten very lonely during my several months in Oregon; I had been looking for a quiet escape where I could focus on purely the animal work, but I did surprise myself with how on my days off I would be wishing to have people I could share the beautiful setting with. I spent many nights in the carpark up the coast in view of my favourite lighthouse, with the moon as company and the waves far below the cliff as the only sound.
I remember that no matter how I was feeling, though, as soon as I arrived at the wolf sanctuary in the morning, one look at those gorgeous beasts would wash away any thoughts of loneliness or the like. They were perfect companions, even the ones who had little to do with me. Tehalin became my best wolf buddy; we would spend hours and hours together, playing, having a bit of a cuddle, or just staring at each other while I talked time away to him. I could drown in those sweet honey-brown eyes of his. And despite all the abuse most of those wolves had faced, many of them were willing to trust in certain people again. I think I almost assumed they would perceive me with a neutral view. That I got to bond with individual animals was amazing – but I got used to having those relationships with the wolves. Perhaps it put a slight preconception in my head about how things would be with the animals in Thailand – but that was not to be the reality.
As much physical effort and emotional investment I put in to working with the elephants at the WFFT Elephant Rescue and Education Centre, I can’t say I truly bonded with any of them. True, the elephants would see so many people every single day, and volunteers would come and go like the rain – whereas with the wolves it was a lot more intimate. But it’s more than that… If I were to be anthropomorphic I would say I almost felt a sense of bitterness from the ellies. After everything – an unnatural life of work and torture and mental abuse – it was like they realised they didn’t have to put up with people any more now that they were in this environment of their sanctuary, and they really wouldn’t stand for anything they didn’t have to. On my very last day of work at WFFT I was feeding banana balls to Duanphen. A second after this photo of us was taken, Duanphen rammed her head into the fence at me, crushing my thumb between the metal bowl I was holding and the wire barrier. Had I been feeding her too slowly? Had she just done it because she felt like it? Was she intentionally trying to scare or hurt me? I’m not sure. But you can’t hold any such behaviour against any animals. And I have mentioned before in my Thailand posts that you couldn’t take anything personally with the elephants – Boonmee scared the life out of me when she charged me, and it took a few moments for me to not feel offended, but you just can’t. Especially considering the life those animals have had to endure because of humans.
But in saying that, there was only one wolf at WWS who ever did anything close to offending me, and I know he was just asserting his dominance. Nepenthe was his name, and he had been rescued from an illegal fur farm when he was very young. The cage he had been kept in was so small that he couldn’t stand, and his hind legs were underdeveloped; he couldn’t use them at all. Once he had been nursed back to health at the sanctuary (and regained the use of his legs) he remained there with his sister and habitat mate Ventana. Both have passed away since I saw them last, but they were over a decade old – that’s good for a wolf, even in captivity. I remember that Nepenthe used to jump at the fence if anyone walked too close. He would do it to get a reaction; it was absolutely intentional. You could tell he would be so proud of himself when he made a person start or yelp. It bugged me a little that we couldn’t just be around each other amicably, but again it’s a case of him not having to put up with people. Yet, he was the only wolf that did anything like that. And others had been far more beaten and abused than he and his sister. When I think about it, I really feel like that old saying is true: elephants don’t forget. I’m not saying wolves do forget, but if I had to describe it I would say that the wolves were almost forgiving.