A volunteer’s eye view of daily life at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand in Phetchaburi

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Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand operates an extensive animal sanctuary in Thayang, Phetchaburi.

Its website wfft.org will give you some great bird’s eye views of the facilities that have been purpose-built to rehome animals that cannot be re-released to the wild.

The sanctuary also provides a home to animals being rehabilitated after illness or injury and those that have been rescued from inappropriate settings in captivity such as zoos, logging camps, tourist venues and private residences not able to properly care for them.

For an overview of all the different animals you can see on a day or half-day visit to the sanctuary, visit the website as you will be amazed.

Today, with the able assistance of Calahan Martin, Cal to his friends, I aim to give you a volunteer’s eye view of the daily life of a wildlife volunteer.

When Cal, a 23-year-old American had the options of living through another icy American winter or travelling to Thailand for 4 months to volunteer at the Sanctuary and spend time with his girlfriend who is on the staff there, it took him all of a second or so to decide. 

Calahan Martin, Cal to his friends

And Cal is certain he made the right decision, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”. The hottest days of summer in his hometown are similar to the coolest days of January in Phetchaburi, so he has now experienced 3 and a half months of summer! He does miss his family, his pets and the comfort of good Mexican food, but is now having to face the reality of his imminent return home.

Cal has learnt an awful lot about animal care and welfare in the wildlife volunteer program (he could have chosen to be an elephant volunteer as well), but I strongly got the sense that the main benefit for Cal in volunteering is that it has afforded him the unique opportunity to learn about himself.

Cal has made lots of new friends from all over the world; some Thai, many from a host of European nations.  New volunteers arrive weekly, some staying only the week, most staying between 1-4 weeks and a few, like him, staying longer. Cal estimates the average volunteer is in their 20s, but quite a few are younger, taking a gap year after school and he has also encountered volunteers in their mid- 60s.

The day of a volunteer is full-on, from 6.30am till around 10pm, when “quiet time” descends on the sanctuary and the animals have peace. Before they have breakfast themselves, volunteers are chopping fruit and vegetables and then feeding over 700 hungry animals of a myriad of sizes, shapes and varieties. This has to be done again later in the afternoon, as well. 

The volunteer’s day might also include “special projects” like mucking out an enclosure, scrubbing clean a bear pool, removing invasive weeds from a lake to make the elephants more comfortable in the water, or making enrichment treats for different animals, such as frozen treats to keep animals cool, or mental stimulation food games for the monkeys. Then there are the regular trucks of animal food that arrive and must be unpacked. Volunteers need to expect to work hard and get dirty, really dirty. Volunteers must sacrifice the personal comforts they are used to, but end up finding themselves doing a “180 degree turn”. It’s nothing a cool shower and a change of clothes won’t fix.

Cal’s best advice to anyone considering taking up this challenge is to “immerse yourself”, both literally and metaphorically. “You become a caretaker, it is more than just a photo opportunity, it is a real privilege”, Cal told me. 

But volunteering at the sanctuary isn’t just hard work.  After dinner, the volunteers hang out, chat, have a drink, play futsal, listen to music or even watch a movie.  There is also always the option of going into Cha-am or Hua Hin for dinner, but 10pm is curfew time. Routine is important for everyone, it seems.

First published by Cherry J Pongpaiboon in Ourhuahin.

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