Borneo – Sandakan Tour


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I am nearing the end of my first week in Borneo, and so far I have somehow managed to escape the horrid reactions to mosquito and other insect bites that some of my companions have been cursed with. All else, though, we deal with together; the draining heat, the cravings of food from home and familiar luxuries, and of course the love for the work we will soon be undertaking.
When I talk to friends back home they describe to me a typical New Zealand winter; iced-up car windows, clear skies with cold days suddenly turning to heavy cloud and tumultuous rain. Winter is hard to imagine when here the hot air presses in on me like a weight. Sitting still sees you covered in a trickling sweat; my skin constantly glistens, and smells of Deet. Although the jungle is sheltered by an entwined tree canopy, there is no breeze; the heat captures you, so you keep moving to create a slight air current that makes it seem less stifling. Right now Sabah is in its driest months, but every night we hear the furiously loud thunder and see the lightning storms. Dry weather keeps the leeches to a minimum – I have yet to come across one of these worms, but we know that after the rain they will become much more familiar, as will even greater populations of buzzing, biting insects.

While us volunteers are still in our “quarantine” week, we have been given the opportunity to travel around the area a little. We’ve been split into two groups for various activities, the first being a trip around Sandakan. This was mainly to allow us to get to a supermarket so that we could pick up some essential items, but also saw us visiting a couple of local tourist destinations.
On Thursday my group of six hopped in a van with our cheerful and knowledgeable local guide, Gary. Gary gave us the chance to mention the types of shops we needed to visit, and also told us bits and pieces about Sanakan. Sandakan used to be the capital city of the state of Sabah, but this ended in the 1940’s when the Japanese invaded. Once a main trading centre and site for British settlement, in 1944 Sandakan was destroyed by the devastating Japanese occupation and consequential bombing by the Allied forces. Now the region is known for its fishing, eco-tourism and resource exports. Gary says it is nothing like the capital city it used to be.

Sandakan Memorial ParkOur first stop of the day was to the Sandakan Memorial Park. This park is a beautiful tribute to all of those who died during the horrific events of the Japanese occupation; British and Australian troops, and locals alike. I admit that I had little knowledge of what actually happened in Sabah dring those years, and to learn its history was harrowing. The Memorial Park itself sits on the very site of one of the infamous prisoner of war camps where countless soldiers were tortured and killed. During the war, Allied forces damaged the Sandakan airfield and surrounding area so greatly that in 194 the Japanese had to move their local operations. Thus began the “Death Marches”.
At first, hundreds of prisoners were selected to carry food and other supplies to Ranau, a town 260 kilometres (160 miles) away. They were made to travel on foot. While these soldiers were deemed the strongest of the bunch, they were still malnourished, and often injured or diseased. Many died along the way or were shot. Once the Sandakan camp was completely closed several months later, the remaining prisoners were forced to do the same journey across two further marches. Keeping in mind that these leftover men were generally deemed weaker as the first group, they also fared terribly. Ultimately 2,345 Allied prisoners died thanks to these horrific marches. Only six prisoners survived – a mere six Australians who, incredibly, managed to escape during the three marches. They were the only survivors left to tell of the true horror.

The Memorial Park as it stands today is a sobering and moving tribute. Every year on ANZAC Day a service is held in remembrance of all those who fell. Being there, in that exact spot where so many fellow humans were held captive, tortured and slaughtered, was a very emotional experience. We spent many long moments in silence. I won’t forget it.


The rest of our day included a visit to a beautiful Chinese temple overlooking Sandakan and its long bay. The Memorial Park and temple instilled a sense of stillness and quiet. It was a very moving few hours. Sabah holds a great deal of history, and there is a richness of diverse cultures. Usually my focus is just on the animals, but it was really good to learn a little about Sandakan’s past and its people.

Our day ended with a complete contrast – a frantic but necessary trip to the (huge) local supermarket. We are now equipped with snacks, practical items such as washing powder for our soon-to-be filthy clothes, and other bits and bobs. We’re as prepared as we can be for our first working day on Monday, and are more than excited for the next stage of our adventure.

– Sam.


Borneo – First Days


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Greetings from Sabah, Borneo! After an 18 hour journey from New Zealand (which wasn’t too bad in comparison to some other trips I’ve made), I arrived in Sadakan on Sunday the 3rd of July. I spent the night in Sadakan city, and headed to Sepilok the following day. I haven’t quite started official work at the sanctuary yet; I and the other volunteers are in a “quarantine” week to ensure we don’t pass any lingering bugs on to the orang-utans. We have been getting to know each other a bit, exploring the local area, putting in plenty of orang-utan observation time, and generally settling in.


I was so excited to finally land at the little airport of Sandakan on Sunday. I do not handle flights and rushing around transit loungers very well, so to step off the plane and find hot heat, exotic birds and beautiful jungle trees was so very welcome. I drank in the familiar Southeast Asia setting with a smile.
Arriving at my hotel in the city was a different story. Before getting to Sepilok I wanted to stay somewhere for a night so that I could gather my thoughts and have a nice, long sleep, but I found the city far from relaxing. I arrived too early to check in, so went for a bit of a wander to find some food and was quickly reminded how much I stand out here! I’m regarded as relatively tall in my home country, let alone Malaysia. People would stop and stare, and in the crowded streets it was quite difficult to get around. Everyone was, of course, very friendly, and I had cheerful “Hellos!” thrown at me from all angles, but I knew I wouldn’t be making street walking a regular activity there.
There is a day-time market right outside the hotel, and throngs of people bustled around it. I suppose I didn’t expect it to be quite so busy – once the time came to check-in I made a quick dash for my room. I didn’t stray too far until leaving the following day for Sepilok.


One thing I noticed was the amount of litter in the water and around the streets. It made me sad to see it, and I had not been able to spot any public rubbish bins along the waterfront – from what I could tell it seemed that trash was simply dropped on the ground. Indeed, during my first night a group of youngsters ate their dinner outside of the hotel. In the morning their rubbish and leftovers still lay in a pile on the street. It doesn’t seem hard to simply pick up and dispose of your litter, but I suppose if it’s not general custom then people simply don’t consider it.
The following day I met up with another volunteer who was staying close by and we shared a ride to the airport to meet some of the others. In total there are twelve of us from all over the world. We will be roommates, work colleagues and social company for the next two months.

Arriving at Sepilok was a relief. Out here we are surrounded by animal conversations and heavy, swaying jungle – it is nothing like the city, and I feel far more at home here. Our accommodation is near the tourist’s entrance to the sanctuary and every day we see people come and go for their daytime visits. Until we begin our work we will be blending in with the tourists, joining the river of groups to watch the twice daily orang-utan feedings. I am really looking forward to beginning at the sanctuary next week, but for now the opportunity to watch the orang-utans and familiarise ourselves with the area is appreciated.

– Sam.


Palm oil – what’s the issue?


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In six weeks today I leave for the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, which is a sanctuary in the northern state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. I’ll be working at the Centre for two months, during which time I will be dedicated to the care of the resident rescue orangutans as well as surveying areas of jungle for wild orangutans. One part of me can’t wait to tell you about the journey – the other part, well… Species of orangutan face a lot of hardships, and I know it will be difficult to see some of these first-hand.
The Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is a species endemic to the island of Borneo and is categorised on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as Endangered. It is currently thought that there are three subspecies of the Bornean orangutan; Pongo pygmaeus morio is the subspecies you will find in the Sabah region, and it is estimated that there are less than 10,000 individuals of this subspecies remaining in the area. In the last 60 years the Bornean Orangutan’s numbers have been declining at a rate of well over 50%, and this is not predicted to stop.

The undisputed main threat to the species is habitat loss due to agriculture – and undoubtedly the number one offender of this group is palm oil plantations. Of an island 740,000 square kilometers large, only 86,000km² remains as available habitat for native species such as the Bornean Orangutan – that’s little over 10%. A few years ago, when I was first looking into getting involved with a project in Borneo, someone asked me, “So what? Rainforests are only for tourists anyway.” This was a sad notion to hear, yet it is a common one. The idea that we can be so incredibly self-centered to convince ourselves that every inch of this planet is merely here to serve our singular species only makes me want to fight harder for the others we are very quickly killing.

I’ve been fundraising like crazy for the upcoming trip – selling palm oil-free chocolates, running movie nights and chatting to various local magazines to get the word out. I’ve discovered that so many people want to help – often they are held back because they don’t have the availability to dedicate themselves to a project like this, and it’s been wonderful being able to talk to so many people about the good conservation work that is going on out there. In a lot of discussions I’ve had it’s become apparent that while many people know orangutans are in trouble, they weren’t quite aware exactly why.

So: palm oil plantations. What’s the big issue? Does an issue even exist?

I’m going to answer that last question with a big: YES. Yes, there is an issue. And it is big. Thousands of football fields a day big – that’s an incredibly general idea of how much frequent deforestation potentially occurs to make way for this particular oil.

Palm oil is the edible vegetable oil extracted from palm fruit which grows on the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). This palm tree is a highly efficient oil producer – it bears fruit year-round, requires less land than many other oil producers, and it grows amazingly well in areas of high-heat and high-rainfall (such as – you got it – Borneo). Palm oil itself has become a greatly desired ingredient for many household products (from food to cleaning supplies to cosmetics to bath products) due to its versatility. Food manufacturers in particular favour it because it is stable at high temperatures and is high in saturated fats (as opposed to trans fats). Palm oil is so popular that it is contained in about half of all packaged food products globally. In New Zealand it is estimated to be an ingredient in at least one of ten supermarket products. This can be hard to tell as manufacturers do not currently have to label palm oil on their packaging – it often comes under the guise of general “vegetable oil”.

Indonesia and Malaysia are the two largest cultivators of palm oil. Every single day virgin rainforests are being cleared in order to set up plantations for these palm trees. There is other space available (e.g. unused land from previous agricultural ventures) but virgin rainforest is an attractive option because timber from felled trees can be sold for profit. Rainforest is also cleared by burning – this is meant to be a controlled and isolated method, but it doesn’t always remain that way. And, of course, the ‘controlled’ burns bring casualties – orangutans and thousands of other animal species are caught up in these blazes. These fires have also contributed to Indonesia being one of the worst greenhouse gas emitters on the planet. The negative impact of this unsustainable industry is devastating and irreparable.
Indigenous peoples are also affected by the palm oil trade. Palm oil manufacturers will often say the introduction of plantations brings strength to local economies, however, in reality the replicated results are communities that have had their lives completely changed and which are suddenly dependent on the palm oil market’s success. Native inhabited, valued land is overhauled for transformations, and people are usually left little choice but to work the plantations for pittance. Workers do include children.

This industry is incredibly unsustainable and damaging – yet the trade is lucrative and the demand is high, so it is seemingly unstoppable. Most consumers contribute in some way to this trade – every time we quickly pop in to the supermarket to pick up a few basic items, it is highly likely that we are supporting this unbelievable environmental impact and species decline. A high number of our favourite multi-national companies are allies of the palm oil trade, as are many of our treasured local brands.

To show that the big-spending palm oil customers do care about the environment, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was created in 2004. This collaboration (between palm oil manufacturers, their customers and some NGOs such as WWF) works to increase the amount of sustainable palm oil produced – defined by them as “environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, legal and economically viable”. 40 million tonnes of palm oil is produced per year – this industry-led group said that by 2009 1.5 million tonnes of this palm oil was sourced via sustainable means (according to their definition). That’s just 4% of what is globally produced. Here’s an RSPO fact sheet if you want to check out some of their distributed information.

If you hadn’t picked up on it, I’m hinting here that the RSPO really isn’t as wonderful as they make out to be. For one, it’s industry-led, not independent, so has a high bias towards keeping palm oil production up. While products containing palm oil endorsed by the RSPO are most likely more sustainable than products that aren’t, purchasing them still supports the demand for this vegetable oil no matter its source. One thing we can do as consumers is recognise that every product we buy is supporting the demand for what goes in to them – by making a conscious decision to buy palm oil-free, we are not adding to that demand.
It’s certainly not easy to do this – as I said, in New Zealand (and countless other countries, no doubt) it is not a legal requirement to label the type of vegetable oil used in a particular product. I encourage people to contact companies and ask them outright if their products contain palm oil. The more people show they care, the more seriously this sort of thing will be taken.
The Auckland Zoo has a few handy resources on their website for those in New Zealand – check out their palm oil-free shopping guide. Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia also have a guide up on their website, and for those in the UK Ethical Consumer magazine have a guide on their site too.

In a few weeks I will be writing from Borneo where I’ll be able to share some first-hand stories about the devastation these palm oil plantations can wreak. It doesn’t hurt us to be conscious consumers – it may take a little (sometimes a lot) of effort, but we are living in a time where convenience seems to outweigh the greater good. I admire those who take the time to remember that their individual choices do make a difference – great or small, they do matter.


Say No to Palm Oil
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
Auckland Zoo – palm oil information (NZ)
Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia (AUS)
Ethical Consumer (UK)

OR-7’s Journey


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Anyone who has spent time close to wolves will be able to tell you that they are incredibly compelling animals with dynamic personalities. Every time I head back to the White Wolf Sanctuary I am greeted with a multitude of characters – some of whom I am familiar with, some of whom are new and are exciting to get to know. I have no doubt that even those who work more hands-off with wild wolves will still have noticed very individual behaviour within packs.

There is one wild wolf in particular who managed to grip the attention of people all over the world, and I think his story is worth sharing. Not only has he made history by being the driving catalyst for an entire state law change, but he defied all odds of location and distance on his instinctive quest to start a family. His name of identification is OR-7 (he was the seventh wolf in Oregon to receive a radio tag), but he has since been affectionately renamed as Journey. He was first radio collared in 2011 when he was about two years old.

Journey originated from the Imnaha pack, a pack of wolves inhabiting a north-east corner of Oregon. This pack was formally identified around 2009 when a video camera caught sight of a group of ten wolves, including a radio-collared female. This female had already made history herself when she trekked down to Oregon with her mate and became the first officially-identified breeding female in the state since the last wolf bounty was collected there in 1947. Journey is one of this female’s pups, and he went on to undertake an incredible expedition himself.

In roughly September 2011 Journey dispersed from his pack, which is something that is encouraged of wolves of this age so that they can find an outside mate and start their own family group. Instead of staying near the area, Journey wandered for miles… and miles… and miles… sometimes 30 miles a day (for metric users like myself that equates to almost 50km a day)! In not even three months, Journey had traveled over 1,200 zig-zagging miles (almost 2,000km) and found himself in California.

Here’s a neat map you can click on that shows how exactly Journey got to California and where he stayed over the years:
Journey's Journey to California

Once his collar signal was recognised in California, it caused quite a stir. This is because it had been almost a whole century since a wolf was spotted in the area. California, like Oregon, once ran a government-funded bounty program that successfully wiped out wolves from the entire state. The last confirmed wild wolf (before Journey) seen in California was identified in 1924. Wolf supporters at the Center for Biological Diversity took the opportunity to set up a petition to invoke state protection for all grey wolves. Fast-forward to June 4th, 2014, and the California Fish and Game Commission finally announced that grey wolves would be listed under the California Endangered Species Act; they would receive state protection.

2014 is getting a bit ahead of the story, though. After first arriving in California in late 2011, and causing such a stir with wolf supporters and those opposed to the protection of wolves, Journey then spent some time flitting between the states of Cali and Oregon with no real established territory of his own. While he was just a wolf doing what wolfies do, people were in awe of him and used him as a real focus-point for positive discussions about the importance of wolves in their natural environment. (If you haven’t already, check out this great video that demonstrates the positive impact reintroduced wolves have had on the environment.)

In 2013, after a couple of years of wandering around (more locally, this time), Journey found himself a mate. And then, only two days before California announced the inclusion of grey wolves on the CESA, US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists released information that they had visited Journey’s known location in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, and seen and heard two – possibly more – wolf pups. Below is the first photo taken, courtesy of USFWS, of Journey and his mate’s two pups – the first wolf pups in the Oregon Cascades in over 60 years! Check out the Center for Biological Diversity’s article tying Journey’s pups in with California’s state pledge of protection.

OR-7 pups

Two of wolf OR7’s pups peak out from a log on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, June 2, 2014. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Since then it was confirmed that Journey and his mate had a total of three mouths to feed – three famous pups born in the Oregon Cascades. All the yearlings survived that 2014-2015 winter – and last year it was confirmed that Journey and his mate successfully produced a second litter! The family group have been named the Rogue Pack, due to their location. HERE is a gorgeous time-lapse video showing two of the three older pups hanging out near a trail-cam (thanks to The Oregonian).

Journey and his mate’s presence has sparked a lot of conversation around wolves and their place in the ecosystem. For the most part, though, people have been accepting of the Rogue Pack (they are keeping well out of the way of humans, which is good). And while the pack are not currently in California, the state protection has lasted in case any other wolves wander through. The status of wolves in California is, however, up for review – for recent updates you can head to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website.

I left out a small detail of this story, wanting to save it until last. Journey traveled hundreds upon hundreds of miles to finally find his mate and start his own pack. And which wolf did he end up finding to create a mating pair with? None other than a female who quite possibly originated from a neighbouring pack from northern Oregon or Idaho! Scat samples that scientists analysed last year show that Journey’s mate may very well have come from a similar region to him, indicating that each wolf wandered hundreds of miles to meet each other despite being potential neighbours. Why Journey decided to trek so far we will never know, but for now the growing Rogue Pack is safe in the Cascades, leading the way for future packs in the area.


The White Wolf Sanctuary
Center for Biological Diversity
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife – wolf updates
California Department of Fish and Wildlife – wolf updates

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Fur farming – an unnecessary industry


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People who call themselves “animal lovers” can cop a lot of flack for it. According to many, unless you are a dedicated vegan your opinions are null and void. You might mention that you care about one topic, and then are slammed with a barrage of “Well if you care about that, you had better care about this too or you’re just a hypocrite!” It doesn’t seem to work the same way in other circles – for example, if someone likes cricket, but not basketball, they probably aren’t told that they are a hypocrite and not a true sports fan unless they fully support all sports everywhere.

However, in my experience even vegans can get the same amount, if not more grief for their lifestyle choice. I am not currently vegan, but when I was trialing it I would commonly hear things like,
You do realise that you’re not actually saving anything by not eating meat, right?
I read that plants scream when you chop them up – have you ever considered what those poor veges go through to make your salad!
So you don’t use any animal products at all? What – are you trying to ruin our economy?
I don’t understand why some people feel they have to put vegans ‘in their place’ if they aren’t pushing their morals on others; it’s an amazing ethical decision, and I have huge respect for people who take the time to live a vegan lifestyle. I can guarantee that there are currently enough people in support of using animal products to ensure that the economy won’t be “ruined by vegans”.

Realistically one person cannot solve all the world’s problems. I know that if I personally tried to get involved in every single cause I cared about I would burn out very quickly and be no use to anyone or anything. I am at peace with the lifestyle I currently lead, and with what I believe in. My focus the last few years has been to do with animal industries that I feel have no necessity – e.g. street entertainment, the illegal wildlife trade, endangered animal parts for ‘traditional’ medicines. Another industry I feel there is no necessity for in the western world is fur farming – especially when it involves endangered or protected species.

Most of us no longer need fur to survive. There are, of course, small populations of peoples who do not have access to easy trade and do require the fur of animals for the sustenance of their communities. But for most of the world it is no longer a necessity. People on the pro-fur side might argue that when an animal is killed for, say, food, that the whole body should be used in order to minimise waste – but the types of animals most popularly hunted for food (e.g. deer, boar, poultry) do not yield the kind of pelt used for high-demand fur (e.g. fox, mink, wolf).


Ventana, White Wolf Sanctuary


When I first started at the White Wolf Sanctuary I got two know two pretty intriguing characters, Ventana and Nepenthe. This arctic wolf pair had come from an apparently horrific fur farm that was breeding wolves and other animals for their pelts, and forced the animals to live in terrible conditions. Nepenthe and Ventana were six months old when they were rescued from this facility, and had been confined in such a small space that they’d never had the chance to develop their hind legs and could not properly stand. It took a lot of work and care to rehabilitate them, but they eventually grew into strong, capable wolves, and each lived for over a decade at the sanctuary where they were cherished and cared for.

An article about a farm in Minnesota was recently brought to my attention. The farm, Fur-Ever Wild, is a “working agricultural farm, that celebrates our traditional connections to the land and mother nature… from the pioneering trappers and hunters… to our ranchers and farmers who are feeding the world today.” ALDF, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, is compiling a case against FEW with the aim of shutting their operations down.

Fur-Ever Wild have a range of species on their farm which they breed for various purposes. Animals include cougars, grey wolves, pigs, horses, deer, raccoon, cattle and goats. FEW markets themselves as an educational facility that aims to connect people back to nature while also promoting “ethical outdoorsmanship” (which, to FEW, includes hunting, trapping and pelting animals). The way they achieve education is through inviting customers to pay to “get up close with North American wildlife” – hand-feeding animals, “pet-n-play” sessions, and live animal demonstrations. All of these services can involve adult wolves and/or wolf pups.

One thing instantly strikes me when reading about what this facility does, and that pertains to it promoting itself as an educational organisation. I am simply not convinced with the “education” that they do. Just as I do not believe that selling elephant rides in Southeast Asia is advocating elephant welfare or their conservation, I am not a supporter of bundling children in to a pen with immature wolves and promoting this as wildlife education. Teaching people that you can keep wild animals in a domestic setting with frequent hands-on contact is not wildlife education in my opinion, and I’m against the breeding of intrinsically-wild animals for the main purpose of turning a profit.

Fur-Ever Wild takes animal exploitation one step further. They also sell the pelts of their own animals. FEW proprietor, Terri Petter, says that when an animal at the establishment dies, “I use everything I can. I don’t think anything should be wasted. I openly admit that.” ALDF, however, is alleging that Fur-Ever Wild doesn’t just wait for their animals to die naturally before they are pelted, but slaughters them in their prime. With federal protection recently being reinstated for grey wolves in Minnesota and nearby states, this means the grey wolf is protected by the Endangered Species Act. The ESA prohibits the killing of a protected species.

While looking into this myself I was only able to find examples of FEW representatives talking about pelting their animals after a natural death – however, during discussion with some activists rallying against the facility I was sent documentation from a 2012 court case in which Terri Petter admitted to breeding animals specifically for their fur, and alluded to having them slaughtered in their prime. One line that really struck me is below:

Q: “Have you pelted anything in the last few months?”
A: “I pelted two wolves last night. And there is another two going tonight… then the rest of them go. There will be 25 within the next three weeks-two weeks.”

As a genuinely interested party I contacted Fur-Ever Wild directly for some clarification on whether they do slaughter animals themselves, or if they wait for natural deaths. FEW received my messages last month, but I have had no reply as yet.

Unsurprisingly, Fur-Ever Wild is a strong talking point for many animal rights activists at the moment – and FEW are understandably not happy about it. Their Facebook page proudly displays plenty of recent posts talking about “animal whacktavists” and how misinformed people can be. Some of their communication gets quite personal – they have openly given the name of one activist and posted her photograph online, and one of their volunteers has even set up a petition against another activist involved in the case, labeling her an “ecoterrorist”.
To be fair to FEW, many of the comments I have read in support of shutting them down have been utterly horrific. I understand that it is an extremely passionate topic for some (I do not exclude myself from that), but resorting to slander, threats and abhorrent language is no constructive way to get things done. That, however, goes for FEW too. In my opinion they have conducted themselves in a very unprofessional manner.

I am completely against what this facility does. Even with legalities aside I personally could never support an establishment that breeds animals primarily for their fur – I do not deem it a necessity in the modern world, not even for the sake of “education”. Educating people on the “old ways” of traditional hunting, trapping and pelting could easily be demonstrated through the use of photographs, illustrations and examples of tools such as you might find in any truly educational facility. Using education as an excuse to carry on a tradition that calls for the unnecessary breeding and slaughter of live animals is simply not a strong enough argument to convince me.

The fact that grey wolves have federal protection just adds another filthy layer to this already messy case. I hope to remain in discussion with people directly involved, and will follow any legal outcomes closely. If this facility is indeed illegally slaughtering protected species then hopefully adequate legal action is enforced. I do admit a personal concerned interest in all of this. The majority of animals I have spent my time working with have been rescues. Rightly or wrongly, if I discovered that any of them had been sold into industries that hold no necessity in my mind, I would most likely be appalled.

I like to think that many people who wish to view wild animals would consider other options before giving money to an establishment that breeds captive wildlife and allows the animals to be exploited in this manner. I suppose by now, though, I have come to learn that countless tourists and customers are prepared to turn a blind eye for the sake of some hands-on contact. Would you be comfortable supporting an establishment that breeds and potentially illegally slaughters its animals for fur? I certainly wouldn’t.


Animal Legal Defense Fund
ALDF article on Intent to Sue Fur-Ever Wild, with link to 2012 court case

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Desexy Revolution


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Christmas is undeniably fast approaching, as terrified as I am to admit it. When I am not overseas working on a wildlife rescue project I do a bit of local rescue work back home and foster cats for a wonderful charity based here in Auckland called Lonely Miaow. Christmas is one of the busiest times for charities such as this one – not only does summer promise countless new kittens, but the festive season also brings an influx of people wanting to get pets as presents. Sadly, the time after Christmas also guarantees more work for rescue charities; for some new owners the reality of caring for a pet sinks in, and many animals are returned to where they came from.

I have never supported the concept of ‘gifting’ a live animal to someone else unless there has been thorough discussion and planning involved. I remember a client who came in for a consultation at a veterinary clinic I work at – a middle-aged lady with her elderly mother. The lady had purchased a fluffy toy breed puppy for her mother – it was running around the clinic waiting room, excitedly soiling the lino every time someone paid it some attention. A typical puppy, it was full of energy and needed lots of stimulation and patience. The lady was grinning from ear to ear, gushing about this little dog who she now got to visit a couple of times a week – meanwhile, her mother simply shook her head at me. Obviously this had not been a ‘gift’ she was prepared for.
Animals are responsibilities. They require time, dedication and, of course, adequate funds for food and medical care. Before acquiring a pet for someone this Christmas please remember to ensure that the decision is one that has been properly thought out by the receiving party. Pets deserve the gift of a good, caring home; not to be given as a spontaneous gift themselves.

Many animal Christmas gifts come from what I will refer to as ‘backyard breeders’ – people with entire animals who allow them to breed without any real oversight or proper planning. Often someone discovers they have a full litter of kittens or puppies on their hands, and decides that they need to find homes for the offspring in time for summer. In New Zealand anyone can breed their cat or dog – and our shelters are inundated with unwanted animals. A single female cat can be responsible for producing 25,000 descendants in only five years – no, that wasn’t a typo! One female cat can have two-three litters per year, of up to nine or so kittens. These kittens can start producing themselves from only several months of age – the numbers quickly add up.
New Zealand has a massive number of stray, roaming cats – that’s where Lonely Miaow come in. They get these animals ‘off the streets’ so to speak, put them into a foster home, desex them, and then their foster owners find them a forever home. Since my time working with Lonely Miaow I have rehomed 21 kittens and cats – not a huge number, but that is 21 little furballs not out there contributing to the mass feral population; 21 little furballs with a happy home, medical care, full tummies and awesome owners.

HURRAH Desexy Revolution Alyson Young PhotographyAnother Auckland-based charity that I have some dealings with do similar work for dogs. HURRAH – the Humane Rescue, Rehabilitation and Rehoming Charitable Trust – is a volunteer-run group that rescues unwanted dogs, puts them into foster care and provides them with everything they need for a new, happy life. Some of these animals had been surrendered for euthanasia by their previous owners – HURRAH do amazing work with finding these dogs, giving them proper behavioural training and medical treatment, and ensuring they are ready for a caring, responsible home.

Not only this, but HURRAH have recently started up an even more community-focused initiative: the Desexy Revolution. Desexy Revolution aims to eliminate the high number of unwanted puppies in Auckland by offering desexing services to lower-income families. They require massive support for this – not just financial aid and surgical equipment, but man-power too; vets, nurses, dog handlers, administrators – and these are all volunteers.

Alyson Young Desexy RevolutionIn September I lent my nursing skills to Desexy Revolution for one of their mass clinics. In just one day and with only two surgery tables we spayed and neutered over 20 dogs – a fantastic feat. I was at the end of the line in Recovery; as soon as each veterinarian had finished surgery on a dog, I and the trainee nurse stationed with me would take the animals off the table, set them up in a recovery kennel, and ensure they woke up properly. Their endotracheal tubes and intravenous catheters would need to be removed, their post-operative medication (including pain relief) would be given, and we would monitor each animal closely to ensure its early recovery was going to plan. A big part of our job was shuffling animals around for space; with only three recovery kennels we had to be pretty smart about our resources!

Samantha Boston Desexy Revolution recovery HURRAHThe day truly was a great success. It even made national news! You can check out the little piece here.

Samantha Boston Desexy Revolution Alyson Young Photography

Check out my sweet over-sized scrubs

Initiatives like this are so important, but nothing beats responsible pet ownership. I really don’t encourage backyard breeding; I have worked in veterinary clinics, shelters and rescue facilities, and the number of abandoned animals passing through these establishments is shocking. For each puppy or kitten born, that means one less potential home for a shelter animal in need. If you are going to be blessing loved ones with a furry addition to the family, consider a rescue animal. They are far less likely to have medical issues than most pure-bred pets, and providing a wonderful life for an animal in need is one of the most satisfying things you could ever do.


Desexy Revolution
Lonely Miaow
Alyson Young Photography

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Our world is bigger than us


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I’ve been having a few rants lately to people about how western culture encourages us to live for ourselves only, the way our civilization pressures us to. Celebrities flood the media; how to dress like them, why you should want bodies like them, where they eat and what they buy. We are told that our goals in life are to work ourselves raw in a career, secure a house, have children and raise them to care about the same life cycle as us and to become unconscious consumers just as we are. Our shopping choices fuel child slavery, destroy unimaginable expanses of dwindling natural habitat and continue the demand for rife corruption in countless countries – all because we want more, more, more, and we have decided that nothing else matters more than supporting our own lifestyles. Our blind tourism and entertainment desires have consequences I still can’t get my own family to understand: That elephant you’re riding in Thailand has had its herd slaughtered, its family dismembered for some wealthy human’s fetish, and its offspring smuggled across a border to be broken and tortured only to later end up at an ‘elephant camp’ where you will pay to bottle feed it and thus throw more money into supporting the decline and incarceration of a wild species.

And yet we plod along, without a thought for anything but what we deem as important in our own little worlds. That sentiment is something I continue to struggle with. How can we be so intelligent, and know so much, yet allow these things to happen?

Some truly devastating images have been shared widely over social media and through the news lately showing the utter trauma Syria’s people are currently going through. Syria’s displaced refugees are literally dying to get away from the country that was once their home – and shocking photographs are making outsiders realise that this is actually a reality.
A lot of what I hear in response to this are complaints that the photos shouldn’t be circulating at all, because they are disturbing. Yes, they are disturbing, yes they are heart-breaking, and I also can’t stand to see them any more. But when someone tells me that they plan to do nothing but switch the news off and carry on with their own lives, I am ashamed. For many people it is easy to just shut their eyes and put bigger matters out of their minds – but this is an attitude that can sustain humanitarian crises.
So I know that it can be traumatic to be forced to see the horror that is our world right now… but use that energy to do something good. And I don’t meant get up and leave your life and current responsibilities behind to go and physically help – you can do plenty from a chair at home. Donate $5.00 or some toys to an aid project, for example. This link <— has some good little ideas.
Live with compassion. Be aware. Our actions – even many seemingly insignificant ones – have consequences. Give thoughts to things outside your own world and encourage those in your care to do the same. One of my favourite philosophies is: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

There is a lot going on, all over the globe. Plenty of projects need our help. I’ve said it before, but by choosing even one thing important to you, and doing something beneficial for it every now and then, you can make a difference – or so the optimist in me believes. I know that everyone has their own troubles, difficulties, and tragedies. But if we resign ourselves to believing there is no point in even trying to make a tiny piece of difference, nothing will change. It isn’t difficult to do a selfless good deed, and I relish hearing about the many plans different people have to help others or contribute something positive somewhere.

Below is a video that I think is a good illustration of how anything can happen to anyone, and may put things in a different perspective for some. It certainly made me think.


LARP: The Bleed-Out/Bleed-In


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I recently rediscovered my ‘fear’ of flying. This isn’t ideal when I have plenty of travel plans, a job that sees me skip across the country occasionally, and a hobby that also encourages a bit of local travel. New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, is known for its windy temperament (which can lead to some interesting flights at times) and last month I flew down to Wellington to spend the weekend with some of the LARP (Live Action Role-Play) community. Most thankfully the flight down was smooth and entirely uneventful – I’m using it to top up my “See, flights are fine!” list.

LARP (which can basically be described as dress-ups and make-believe for all ages) has become a favoured hobby of mine, not that I would ever say I’m super “good” at it. I love the escapism, and I also love simply being around the community we have here in New Zealand. I’m quite a shy person, and while I’ve been attending LARPs for at least three years now I wouldn’t consider myself to be highly proactive in the community. When I’m at LARP events I think I only need to know I have at least one or two people I’m relatively close to, and after that everyone else adds to the positive experience just by being there even if they haven’t interacted with me at all. I’m certainly one who would say she experiences “LARPover” (an emotional low after the games are done). I think it’s because I revel in that escapism so much, and each and every person in some way adds to my experience, so I end up missing everyone to a notable extent – even if some of us have hardly spoken at the particular event.

At last month’s weekend I had a different experience to any other I’ve had while LARPing. A lot of people consider a LARP experience to be successful if they have really felt raw emotion, or if their characters have been affected quite deeply by something. I used to steer far away from anything that had a “Warning: Emotionally intense, this game is for experienced LARPers only” label on it because I didn’t think I would be able to handle it, but I feel I’m somewhat more confident to tackle increased emotionally-involved games now.

A while ago I wrote about my first ever LARP experience, which was at a ‘campaign’ game called Teonn. Different LARPs have different lengths – you might have a game that only lasts a couple of hours, or one that lasts a whole weekend. You may even have ‘campaigns’ where people meet up every so often to play a game that has a continuous storyline. The current campaign we are playing is known as The Crucible, and this story was planned to span out across three or four years. Every six months we have a big game that lasts for three or four days, and in between those weekend games we have little events or ‘day games’. The LARP I’m writing about in this post was a Crucible day game, and played out for several hours.
In Crucible (and many other LARPs) you can choose to ‘Play’ or ‘Crew’. Players tend to write their own characters to fit in with the setting, and make character connections with other Players to create some kind of back-story. Crew flesh out the rest of the setting like the extras (very important ones!) of a movie – they play the ‘NPCs’ (Non-Player Characters); the quest-givers the Players have to satisfy, the monsters the Players have to fight, villagers and townspeople, etc.
Crucible is basically a dark fantasy game with different factions that you can pledge your loyalty to. Some of the factions could be loosely compared to those in Game of Thrones. We also have several Demon factions and other interesting creatures to keep us on our toes. I started Crucible as a Player, but for the day game last month we didn’t have too many crew so I decided to help out on the NPC side. One of the GMs (“Game Masters” – they organise the games and oversee the plot) got in touch with me a few days before the game and asked if I would be happy playing a particular NPC for the day. I jumped at the chance because I far prefer character-focused role-playing as opposed to being involved in heavy combat – plus it sounded like an exciting character.

The setting of the day game was this: a Hold that the different factions often congregate at was under attack by demons. The Jarl (Jarl Garm Vandholtz – played by the NPC Coordinator) had called to the factions for aid, and so they came along to see if they could put an end to the attacks. Garm has a daughter named Rikku (played by one of the amazing Crew), but she and a few of the Players were captured right at the start of the game by some demons – and so the other Players had to find and rescue them.

Rikku and especially Jarl Garm have been important parts of the Crucible story so far, and make regular appearances at games. It was common knowledge that Rikku’s mother (Garm’s wife) had passed away some years ago. It was not common knowledge that the Lady’s ghost was still lingering atop a mountain, underneath which a cache was hidden in some sealed catacombs. I was to play Garm’s wife, Astrid Vandholtz, and the Players were to eventually find and placate my “spirit”.

At the start of the game I had a briefing with a couple of the GMs who helped me understand what to expect, and what my aims were for the game. I had several warnings that it was going to be emotional, so I tried to prepare myself as best I could.

Astrid’s story was that she had been the much-loved Lady of the Hold, a powerful mage, a loving wife and utterly devoted mother to her children. Seven years ago she had been captured by a group of demons and dragged into the mines near where she and her family lived. The demons wanted to take advantage of her powerful magic and undying love for her family: they wished to bind her to the area to protect it from strangers. In order to do this, though, they had to kill her painfully in a ritual that lasted many days. During this ritual her screams echoed throughout the tunnels of the labyrinthine mines and out into the mountains, and the Hold’s people (including the Jarl) were forced to hear it day after day, night after night, until the ritual finally took her life.
After that day Astrid’s spirit took to the mountainside above the mines and she had haunted it ever since, a tragic and all-but-living memory of what had occurred in the depths of those tunnels. During the ritual the demons had ensured that Astrid’s love for her family was transcribed into her desire to protect the mines, and she did so passionately – her ghost was extremely hostile. If people ever came to find her she would simply frighten them away with her ferocity.

On this day, when the factions gathered to bring aid in response to Jarl Garm Vandholtz’s call for assistance, some of the Players stumbled across Astrid’s ghost. She would have turned them away completely, but they spoke the name of her daughter – Rikku. Astrid’s love for her family was still as strong as it was in life, and eventually the Players realised that in order to get Astrid to be reasonable with them they had to bring Garm and Rikku to her restless spirit. However, Jarl Garm and his daughter had no idea that Astrid still had a presence on this earth. They believed she was long gone, at peace with their Gods. When the Players did finally bring Garm and Rikku to the place of Astrid’s haunting, they could not believe what they saw. Rikku was convinced it was but an evil manifestation, and refused to listen to her lady mother’s ghost speak.

LARP Crucible Astrid and Garm

A disbelieving Garm watches as Astrid’s ghost turns on him

Unable to convince her daughter that she truly was the girl’s awakened mother, Astrid turned on her speechless husband, Garm. He stood, watching in disbelief, yet knowing that this was indeed remnants of the wife he knew had died seven years ago. But she was furious.

“Why hadn’t you come to find me?”
she accused. “Seven years I have waited in this place for my family – seven years! And not once did you seek me out.”

Garm, torn with grief and guilt, could only implore to Astrid that he had wanted to – their family had been tortured by the knowledge that she had been slaughtered in those tunnels, but they knew it would be impossible to find her in that demon-run labyrinth, and eventually they sought solace in their belief that she was at rest.
Meanwhile, the Players were gathering around trying to figure out how to pacify Astrid’s unrelenting spirit. Earlier, some of them had met a Hag in the woods who had taught them a ritual of how to set the ghost free – however they needed Astrid’s body to do this, and in her furious state she wasn’t going to give them any assistance.
It took some convincing, but once Rikku saw that her father very obviously believed that this truly was Astrid’s ghost, she inched closer and closer to her mother’s spirit and they finally touched hands. It was quite a reunion – careful, cautious, and almost too good to be true. Astrid smiled, her eyes gleaming with bittersweet sorrow, and sighed, “Rikku, you have grown so much, my beautiful girl.” The two dissolved into tears and an embrace.

For me these tears were not false. The situation, of course, was in that make-believe realm, but it slightly echoed something in my real life. Many people have methods for separating character experiences from their real selves, and I have for the most part managed to do so thus far. But this was something else. That slight echo gripped me, and shook me, and caged me in those tears, and wouldn’t let go.

After the embrace with her daughter Astrid disappeared, whispering the location of her body to Rikku and granting her and her friends (the Players) access to the mines. (At this point I ran off with one of the GMs, down into the tunnels of this gorgeous LARP location: the Players now had to face a maze to find Astrid’s body.)
Once the Players reached the correct mine entrance, Astrid’s ghost awaited them. The Players were certainly wary of her, but one was brave enough to approach and have a short but gentle conversation with her. It is always interesting, for me, to see the types of characters people play – the ones who want to make things right, the ones who want to ensure their deeds are honourable and intentions clear. Once Astrid caught sight of her daughter she disappeared into the tunnels, beckoning for Rikku and her friends to follow. The tunnels were long and dark, and Astrid’s ghost would appear at every corner, calling to her daughter, leading the Players to her final resting place. The Players, of course, did not know what to expect. Finally, Astrid led them to a room in which they found a raised platform. The GMs described the scene to them as this:

LARP Crucible Catacombes

The Players find Astrid’s final resting place deep within the catacombs.

Atop the platform is a throne, and in the throne sits a sunken body: the corpse of a female. Her clothes are torn, and there are deep symbols etched into her flesh. Her lifeless body sits here, but you can also see her ghost over the top of the flesh – Lady Astrid. To the right of the throne is a tall demon. He smiles as you enter.

While in this form, tied to her body, Astrid’s ghost was able to slightly move her physical limbs and still had the ability to speak. But at first I – myself – could not. The Players filed in to the room, one by one. I truly did feel like a fragile, vulnerable body atop this little throne. Rikku cried as she entered, and I couldn’t stop.
On seeing the demon the Players demanded to know who he was and why he was there. He laughed and said that Astrid was the one they should be concerned about – she was a problem that needed to be “dealt” with. I stared around the room at the Players, imploring them to help, feeling desperate. The goal was to have the Players successfully release Astrid’s spirit and finally allow her to rest. I knew this, but I also knew that I was feeding off my own raw emotion – a resolution in this story would not bring me peace. I was not sure what to expect after we had concluded this scene.

Rikku seeks the comfort of a friend in the presence of her mother's tortured spirit.

Rikku seeks the comfort of a friend in the presence of her mother’s tortured spirit.

Thanks to the Hag in the woods the Players had the ritual they needed, and asked Astrid’s ghost if she would accept them performing it in order to bring her the eternal sleep she had longed for all this time. It was what she wanted, of course – she had been reunited with her family, and knew her daughter and husband were safe. But she wanted to hold them one last time. This was the hardest thing for me – “saying goodbye”. The simply gorgeous girl playing Rikku was astounding – she grasped my hands and cried out about how this shouldn’t be how it ended. Garm begged to trade places, but Astrid told him that he needed to continue leading his people and raising beautiful Rikku. There were so, so many tears.

Finally, the Players performed the ritual and released Astrid’s spirit. Her body slumped down into the throne, and her protective ward was lifted. After all of that the Players now had access to the cache she had been protecting. They also managed to dispel the demon! It all went according to plan.

Except, there I sat, with ‘Rikku’ crying over my ‘body’. She gently placed my hands together in my lap, and fell back into the friends who were there to comfort her. My face was tilted down and tears were tumbling off my cheeks – I kept willing myself to stop; “Corpses don’t cry, Sam, corpses don’t cry…” but I couldn’t help it. That scene had been too much. I couldn’t stop thinking about the things my real-life family were going through right then, and what they would be having to endure in the near-future, and I just couldn’t shake that tragic pain. The lovely lass playing Rikku then whispered to me that we would leave the tunnels, and pretend that she was carrying Astrid’s body out. I followed her and couldn’t speak. The Players had to wage through a final battle, and I sat out of the way with my wonderful friend who played the Hag and a couple of others who wanted to spectate. I still couldn’t shake the tears.

I needed to get that out. While it was certainly one of the best role-playing experiences I have had, it also grabbed me in a way that meant some real-life pain came out. It is almost surreal knowing you are feeling this real emotion, caused by something in your true life, while being in the middle of a fantasy-based game where people all around you are pretending. It felt incredibly lonely and isolating.
There are articles floating around describing a phenomenon known as ‘Bleed’ from LARPs, which is an affect that occurs when the emotions of your character actually creep their way into your real life. I suppose this encounter was the ‘Bleed-in‘; real life affecting an in-game experience. It meant that some of those feelings I made out to portray were actually coming from me, myself, and not just the woman I was meant to be playing.

LARP Crucible The Hag

The surreal forest Hag


A huge mention to everyone involved. Everyone had different experiences with this particular game, some more positive than others, but I want to thank those who interacted with me in any way, shape or form, whether it was causally hanging out before the game began, or afterwards when we were all feeling drained and tired.

If any GMs from anywhere are reading this, thank you for all that you do.

To everyone dealing with the loss of a loved one – you are in my thoughts.

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Shutting down a temple


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A few days ago, the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, a wildlife rescue organisation I worked with in 2013, posted some photos of a very emaciated-looking sunbear that they had found in a temple in the Prachuap Khiri Khan province. This little girl, who they affectionately named Kwan, had been found all alone in a bare, cell-type room at the temple. They uplifted this malnourished creature and provided what veterinary treatment they could, placing her in intensive care back at WFFT’s veterinary clinic. Sadly, though, they just could not save her, and she passed away shortly after her long-overdue rescue.

Assessing Kwan - photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Assessing Kwan – photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Animals held at temples in Southeast Asia are a common occurrence. Probably the most infamous is the widely-promoted “Tiger Temple” in Kanchanaburi province. This is a very popular tourist destination, and attracts floods of people daily even in the off-peak season. As a major travel attraction, animals at this temple generate significant business for Thailand, which means the animals need to appear happy  and healthy to visitors. So what of lesser-known places that keep wildlife?

This is half the point of WFFT’s mobile vet clinic (set up and maintained with the help of the Born Free Foundation) – to travel and assess the conditions of animals kept in public and private establishments. Three years ago WFFT visited the particular temple little Kwan was held at, and found several species of animals (bears, primates and more) in appalling conditions. Edwin Wiek, the director of WFFT, personally handed a complaint to the DNP (Thailand’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife), but it seems that direct action was not taken. Six months later, WFFT re-sent this complaint (with full information, including veterinary assessments and photographs attached), but again did not hear back. Last year WFFT once again traveled to the temple, only to find new animals held in the same unhygienic conditions. Please note that WFFT itself has to be extremely careful with how they conduct themselves. The team cannot simply go and uplift animals without permission from authorities as this could lead to their own sanctuary being shut down. They are dealing with an unbelievably corrupt environment, so care must be taken to ensure they do absolutely nothing that could be deemed as unlawful. WFFT is an incredible organisation that does invaluable work, but you can probably imagine that their aim of rescuing wildlife from dismal situations has made them more than a few enemies.
Finally in August last year, WFFT received communication from the DNP that this particular temple had been charged with illegal wildlife possession and had been shut down. However, in the following months Edwin discovered that the DNP’s actions were not swift enough – he received information that not only were many animals still held by the temple, but that a bear had passed away from illness and was being skinned for its pelt. This ongoing saga finally resulted in WFFT gaining permission to treat remaining animals at the temple – which is when they came across little Kwan.

Treating Kwan - photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Treating Kwan – photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

As it stands, yet another bear had also died in the confines of the temple. WFFT helped remove the remaining four bears from the temple – unfortunately WFFT does not currently have the capacity to house these animals, but they have pledged ongoing support for the bears at the rescue facility they had been moved to, and will provide food, veterinary treatment and enclosure upgrades where necessary. At least for a few of the temple’s animals there was a positive way out.

While in discussion with friends and family members about this situation, the question was asked: “Why?” As in, why hold animals in a dark room?

The main, obvious reason to use animals is for money. Those beautiful, enticing holiday places in southeast Asia that boast daily elephant rides are using their animals as a lure to make money. Tourists just love it. They will gladly pay money for this sort of experience, and tell their friends how wonderfully the animals are treated. The reality, however, is that baby elephants are poached from the wild for these ventures, and that their greater herds are killed. Babies go through the elephant ‘domestication‘ process, and the end product is a submissive, empty animal that will live its days to serve. Those subdued tigers at the Tiger Temple will never be released to the wild; there is no conservation effort there whatsoever. Once again, it is simply a way of attracting foreigners to spend their coin.

So what is the point of having animals at the temple mentioned in this post? These animals were not making anyone money. Little Kwan could not have been skinned for her pelt – she was so malnourished that most of her hair had fallen out.
People I have discussed this with back home have been absolutely horrified. The endless Facebook comments WFFT has received in regards to Kwan’s story show that there are so many people who have been mortified by her ordeal. And yet, this sort of abuse happens everywhere, even in first world countries (blasphemy I know!). People neglect their animals. They come into possession of living things and end up putting them somewhere where they are “out of sight, out of mind”. I shudder to think of the state of some pets I’ve seen at friends’ houses. It’s everywhere.
Traditionally, and very generally-speaking, there is a typical difference in the way animals are viewed in places like Southeast Asia; less companions, more servants to our wants and desires. But the world is [very slowly] changing, and I do not personally believe ‘culture’ is a good enough reason to mistreat an animal in one’s care, or poach from the wild. As always, I can only implore travelers to carefully choose their travel destinations and activities. If you really want to get close to beautiful wildlife, support a conservation effort like an ethical national park, or help out at a sanctuary such as WFFT.

Edwin Wiek and Kwan at WFFT - photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Edwin Wiek and Kwan at WFFT – photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand


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Comic relief


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Things have been pretty same-same back home. I’m working far too much (I have, what, three jobs that I’m staying on top of now?) to savesavesave for the ongoing overseas volunteer travels, our tanks at the farm I live on have been filled a bit by rain recently, and the weather is getting progressively colder much to my dislike. Cooler temperatures tend to hinder some of the plans I make with good intentions to keep myself busy while I’m not working. Yes, I know – for my friends reading this I know it exasperates you to hear that I have this strange urge to ‘keep busy’ with little projects when I’m not off overseas or working silly hours. “But you don’t have time as it is!” While I consider myself a quiet person I suppose I also have this desire to feel productive in my life. But with winter steadily coming along I can guarantee I’ll be more inclined to keep cosy inside when I can. This girl is a Summer baby, I don’t tend to thrive in the cold.

I like to think that I have at least one or two interesting hobbies that seem to satisfy this hunger I have for a vibrant life when I’m not traveling. I have talked a bit about my earliest experiences with LARP (Live Action Role-Play), and have mentioned a few times the enjoyment I get from being a part of creating interesting images (see my sea-nymph post or earlier scribbles about these image collaborations in general). I seem to have put the two together, in a way, and by doing so have opened myself up to a whole new world altogether. I’ll tell you what I mean:

I’m not sure when I opened a comic book for the first time, but I knew it was something I took a liking to straight away – despite it being a ‘weird’ thing for a girl to like in most of the social circles in school. Thankfully I’ve been out of school for a long time now and have more than embraced the old playground tauntings of “geek” and “nerd”. Geekery really does seem to be in fashion these days, especially for females. Since moving in on my own about a year ago I found I no longer had to cater for anyone else’s tastes but my own. It also gave me extra opportunity to explore these hobbies of mine, and that’s something I seem to be enjoying more as time goes on.

One of my favourite ‘superheroes’ is Batman. I’m not too sure why his stories appeal to me more than so many others that are out there – I don’t relate to the guy, but I like the way he is currently portrayed to uphold his air of mystery and how he conducts what he does. Naturally, being partial to adventure/story-based video games here and there, I ended up playing a couple of recent Batman video games (Arkham Asylum and Arkham City), and really enjoyed them. In these games one of Batman’s most well-known enemies, the Joker, is prevalent – and he’s not alone. His female side-kick, Harley Quinn, is also part of the show.
To be honest I didn’t know much about Harley Quinn before playing these games. I had heard her name, seen her picture – I knew about her, but never took much interest in her. For some reason, though, this poor, misguided, terribly enamored ex-doctor really grew on me. She is epitome of a fool in love, and will do absolutely anything for the Joker – he is, of course, the reason she became a ‘villain’ in the first place. She follows him blindly with a larger-than-life personality, but instead of pitying her I almost view her with a kind of strange respect. Though I do need to point out I’m no expert on comic book characters by any sense, and the opinions I’ve formed of her have come from the limited amount of resources I’ve encountered.

Well anyway, one day I decided I wanted to bring her to life in my own way. I spent some time slowly piecing together an unconventional costume involving a tutu, and finally chatted to my friend Brett at Creative Photography who I have worked with in the past. He loved the idea, and so we made it happen; we took over a couple of different locations around Auckland city, and Harley came out to play. Scroll down to have a look – there was a huge selection of photographs, but I have included some of my favourites for you in this post.

Of course, that wasn’t enough for me. I love the creativity inspired by LARP, but I think deep down having a character to play is also a way of hiding behind a safe mask; something that is not myself and helps me decrease my vulnerability to the outside world. Over the weekend that has just passed there was the first of several expos this year in NZ that is dedicated to so-called geekery. Here in New Zealand we don’t get those huge, incredible conventions like we hear about from overseas. But we do have something at least! Armageddon is its name, and I had only been to one or two of its events previous to 2015. I remember walking around, seeing video games on display, seeing people in costume, learning to play different card games – but this year I decided to don my Harley outfit and see how it went.
And I can’t begin to describe how much of a buzz it was! It was nerve-wracking at first; of course I was worried my less-than-accurate costume would come under scrutiny. But I very quickly discovered that the people I was meeting were warm, welcoming and extremely encouraging. This was part of NZ’s cosplay community, a community I had never been involved in before now. Suddenly I was meeting all these people – other characters – the Joker, Batman, other Harley’s – it was a blast, and the people were wonderful. However, I don’t see myself as a cosplayer. Over the weekend I met some incredible cosplayers, and I wouldn’t think to count myself in their ranks. My costumes are less accurate, more artistic takes on particular characters. I’m not sure if the definition of cosplay includes accuracy – I’m very new to all of this – but perhaps readers could shed some light on it for me. :) In summary, though, I think I can say I have found another hobby.

Below are some of the shots from Harley’s day out about Auckland. I hope you enjoy them.

Harley Quinn sitting on wall

Harley Quinn city skyline

Harley Quinn brick wall

Harley Quinn corridor Samantha Boston wildatheart

Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn cartoon poster

On aHarley Quinn and Deadpool convention wildatheart side note – I really, really, really think if Harley Quinn and Deadpool were in the same universe that they would make a pretty hilarious/amazing couple (that’s if Mr J. wasn’t around…). So, of course, Deadpool was one of the characters I had hoped to run into at this weekend’s Armageddon. There were a few Deadpools out there, but here’s one low-quality snap from my phone.


Creative Photography Ltd.

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