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Wildlife Volunteering near Cha-am

Listed under Wildlife Conservation in Central Thailand, Thailand.

  • Photo of Wildlife Volunteering near Cha-am
  • Photo of Wildlife Volunteering near Cha-am
  • Photo of Wildlife Volunteering near Cha-am
  • Photo of Wildlife Volunteering near Cha-am
  • Photo of Wildlife Volunteering near Cha-am
  • Photo of Wildlife Volunteering near Cha-am
  • Photo of Wildlife Volunteering near Cha-am
  • Photo of Wildlife Volunteering near Cha-am
Photo of Wildlife Volunteering near Cha-am
Photo by flickr user cliff1066
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Like a lot of people, I spent years sitting at home dreaming of a life outside the office; I was depressed by the state of the planet, and stared out the window wishing I could do more to make a difference. I clicked on links to volunteer projects in remote locations and stared at the photos of wide-eyed children, endangered creatures and majestic scenery, but always the cost of the project was more than I can afford, let alone the plane ticket to get there. And so I kept on dreaming.

Finally, in 2007 I decided I wanted out, and made plans to go travelling. Disentangling myself from my normal life was tough, but I hammered out an itinerary, tied up work, bought all my travel gear, said goodbye to family and friends and hopped on a plane to embark on a new adventure that was to take me in some very unexpected directions.

Initially I planned to travel Australia, New Zealand and south-east Asia, and it was towards the end of my time in Australia that I stumbled across the GVN website. As was my habit, I clicked through the website to the projects in the usually vain hope of finding one suitable, and found one in Thailand, the last country on my itinerary, at a wildlife rescue centre. Not only that, but the project was very reasonable, citing a price that was easily less than I would spend on travel during the same time period. I filled in the application form fairly quickly and without too much thought, imagining that I had little or no useful experience to offer, and sent off the email. Within 5 days I had my answer. Yes, I was welcome, they would see me in 2 months.

Arriving with apprehension at the wildlife centre, I was greeted by a cacophony of animal noises. The gibbon calls whistled through the stifling air and the volunteer coordinator Emma tried to beat the welcome committee of barking dogs to the gate to greet me. I dumped my bag in a basic room with no flushing toilet and cold shower and began the acclimatisation to the sheer heat, and to the wildlife centre itself.

My first two days I was placed on Bear Team 1 which involved the twice day feeding and once a day mucking out of several enclosures housing 20 bears. The next two days I was on Primates 1, which involved the feeding of no less than 180 macaques and gibbons, several of which required certain memorised procedures to avoid in-fights between cage-mates, and/or loss of volunteer apparel/glasses/sweatbands etc. The following 2 days I was on Special Diets, Other Wildlife & Nocturnal Animals. Special Diets are for the more unusual animals such as mouse deer & slow loris, 'other wildlife' included mucking out of birds, otter, horses etc & the nocturnal animals included the leopard cats, bintarong, hogbadger & civits.

Our days started at 6.30am with the first tasks, usually feeding, and then mucking out occured throughout the day until second feed after lunch. Although our days were 12 hours long, we frequently had free periods of 2-3 hours to nap, eat, play games or wander down to the town to buy provisions or go to the internet cafe. We had full access to everything in the foodhouse that was bought for the animals, so we daily gorged on juicy mangoes, bananas, watermelons & pomellos, as much as we could physically eat, and our staple diet of toast & pnb. Evening meals were provided by the thai staff & after a hard day's work we eagerly sucked down sticky rice, spicy prawn, chicken stir fry & deep fried egg.

It took a week or so to acclimatise to the heat by which point my pace around the centre had increased from a slow stagger to a zippy sprint, and within 2 weeks of my 4 week stay I was dragging lethargic new volunteers round the centre & showing them the ropes. When you arrive you look at the volunteers that run each team & marvel at their knowledge & confidence. It seems inconcievable that in 2 weeks time you'll be running your own team & teaching the wide-eyed newbies the processes.

My favourite team was Primates 1, and after doing a circuit of all the various teams was eventually given this team to run on an almost daily basis. I loved the preparation of the fruit, filling up 180 bowls & knowing which ones went to which primates. But most of all I loved the characters of the primates, and fell head over heels in love with gibbons. These fluffy, bright-eyed creatures, with their long arms & acrobatics stole my heart. Some were gentle & blinked back at you as they took the banana you held out, chewing on it thoughtfully & emitting a squeak or a 'Woo' at you. Others were much more 'playful', and more than once I ended up in negotiations over my headscarf when I failed to stay sufficiently out of arm's length, or got soaked filling the water buckets as certain gibbons found it highly amusing to charge the fence as you stood there with your watering can.

The work was hard, but rewarding, & in ways I never expected. As I sat on the bus on my way down to Cha-am I already had my mind in the future, looking forward to my new plan to return to Australia & really just imagined I would be spending a month 'making the world a better place' by shovelling poo in 70% humidity. But once I settled into the pace of life at the centre, and started to get to know the characters of these amazing creatures I was completely struck in awe. It had never occurred to me that ever in my life I would be in a position to be close enough to wild animals to know their personalities, & for them to know mine. I'm just an admin girl from London, who in their right mind would let me without any experience or qualifications? And yet, by the end of 4 weeks I could confidently identify all the different types of mammal, and what's more know their names & their preferences, & the best way to handle them. Thinking of it now, it gives me goosebumps to remember just how special that time was, & I'm moved to be reminded of how much I miss my favourites. Just being near them for such a short time enriched my life in a way I'd never have imagined, & in a way that will never leave me. One thing is for certain, I will return.....

Tannith volunteered in Thailand though the Global Volunteer Network.

Written by  Tannith Cattermole.

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