This summer I traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand with the organization Loop Abroad, which is focused on veterinary medicine with cats, dogs and elephants.
As an aspiring large animal veterinarian, this program was right up my alley.
Fortunately, I received a study abroad scholarship from the WCU Alumni Foundation to fund this adventure. Additionally, the assistance of my professor enabled me to receive academic credit for this trip as an independent research project focusing on elephant thermoregulation.
The first week I volunteered at the Animal Rescue Kingdom (ARK), I learned about basic dog and cat anatomy, how to suture, take blood and perform microscope analyses as well as other hands-on veterinary procedures.
During the last two days at the shelter, I was able to assist and scrub in on a dog neuter and a cat spay. Performing a simple cut during surgery, it proved exhilarating to be able to do something so close to my future profession. For the remainder of the surgeries, I monitored the heart rate, breathing rate and medication of the cat or dog while under anesthesia.
After finishing a day at ARK, the evenings were full of cultural experiences. The first night I visited a bazaar and got to see some amazing handcrafted art. Another day, we visited various temples and learned about the practices of Buddhism. We also learned how to meditate from a monk and their customs.
Traditional Thai food is amazing, and the exotic fruits they have are out of this world. My favorite drink is Thai tea with tapioca pearls, and my favorite fruit is mangosteen.
In Thailand, the elephants are a significant part of their culture. They are a popular tourist attraction; however, the methods that are used to train the elephants are inhumane. A practice called the “Phajaan” is used to break an elephant’s spirit.
In this process, a baby elephant is taken away from its mother in the wild, then tied up in a confined pen and beaten with sharp tools.
This process is continued for several days until the baby elephant’s spirit is broken so it can be trained for circus acts, riding, logging and other activities.
The second week we traveled to the Elephant Nature Park, a rescue for elephants and various other animals. Many of the elephants have physical and mental injuries. Seeing these majestic creatures and watching them interact with each other proved to be a priceless experience.
When volunteering at an elephant veterinary, one of the patients, Taichoon, particularly touched my heart. Her front foot was damaged from working around landmines, but she was trained to place her foot in the window to treat her injury. I was able to help treat Taichoon as well as comfort her during treatment.
Elephants are highly intelligent creatures and, like humans, each have their own unique personalities. She was persistent but gentle even though she was in pain.
Taichoon left me with an everlasting memory, one that I know I will look back on for years to come.
Going to Thailand really opened my eyes to the privileges that we have in the U.S. I really did not understand how fortunate we are.
My experiences in Thailand, particularly working with Taichoon, made me want to give back to my community, country and people all over the world.
Being able to interact with another culture was an opportunity of a lifetime, and I now have the travel fever.
Piper Gauthier is a fourth-year student majoring in marine biology. She can be reached at PG857846@wcupa.edu.