A trip to Thailand was always going to be incredible. Especially as the group of us going were a mixture of level 5 and 6 degree students from Bridgwater College, studying either the Foundation Degree (FdSc) in Animal Conservation or the BSc Applied Animal Management Degree with conservation imbedded into it.
However, the essence of conservation taught in the confines of classrooms, coming from second hand experiences can ‘water down’ not only the importance of the subject but its significance in the real world and the difference it makes to the animals involved. So, the chance to go and see it in action was too good to pass, which is why the small group of us that went, were totally privileged to go and couldn’t refuse the chance to do so, even with looming assignment deadlines and family commitments. Somehow though, all those were forgotten for a time, replaced instead with increasing excitement and curiosity as to what the two weeks would bring.
Our actual arrival at the sanctuary after a long, very windy three hour ride in the back of a pick-up truck, saw us first being placed with our home stay hosts, all members of the same village, where we realised that with no English spoken between them, could get a little confusing. It also signalled a two week run of cold showers (buckets for some!), sleeping on the floor, and trying to remember local customs so as not to offend their way of life. We got the hang of it eventually!
Set deep in the mountains of North Thailand, Burm’s & Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (BEES), set up and run by Emily and Burm, was as much a sanctuary for us as it was for the elephants. Offering refuge and protection for elephants in need of some tender, loving, care, Emily and Burm work tirelessly as the voice for not just their residing elephants, but the entire population, by opening up their world to us with the undercurrent being that vital component: education.
We are naïve and blinkered to believe as a society that we have no influence over occurrences developing in another country hundreds of miles away, when more often than not we are in fact the catalyst. Travel and tourism are a huge part of Thailand’s economy, with elephants being used as the number one attraction with their great lure and appeal to visitors impacting on the very well-being; a subject too in-depth to fully discuss here.
On a good note, we spent two unforgettable weeks, bathing, feeding and following the sanctuary’s resident elephants through forests and rivers, observing them in completely natural surroundings, walking past termite hills taller than us and exploring bat filled caves so hot you could hardly breathe. Then there was the food, so much amazing, tasty food, and fruits picked fresh from the trees.
We also visited temples, indulged our sore backs with a traditional Thai massage and overlooked vistas so breath-taking they could have been taken from a magazine.
To sum up the entire trip without filling pages and pages is very hard. Undeniably, the trip to Thailand could be explained to others as a great opportunity, a once in a lifetime chance to work with one of nature’s largest living, gentle, but possibly just as misunderstood creatures. But then it becomes so much more than that when you get there, because apart from volunteering on a fantastic project, working with not just the elephants and the team, you’re working to help local school children and make a difference in many elements, experiencing a real culture that at times, is a far cry from our own. You are also allowing yourself to be shown how conservation can work against the odds if only people could just witness it for themselves.
Being given the chance to go to Thailand to work with the Asian elephants at BEES, brought to reality the magnitude and serious issues that these beautiful creatures face.
I think I speak for everyone who went when I say we came back from Thailand feeling not only inspired but in awe of their boundless knowledge and the amazing work they do to improve and highlight the plight of these majestic animals, but with a new understanding of how cultures, including our own, occasionally work against animal welfare, but how attitudes are slowly being changed through education.
Going anywhere new and working up close with such imposing and regal creatures will always be explained as being an amazing experience, and it was, but it was also an experience that makes you reflect and possibly re-evaluate life and make you want to change it for the better, whether to improve the lives of elephants, your own, or both. It is for these reasons that this wasn’t just a trip, it was a discovery, of tastes, cultures and opportunities so that we could leave Thailand as new friends, and from that day on, united in being new advocates for the Asian elephant.
Are you in a position where you have more spare time available or are thinking about a change of career? How about a part-time or full-time course in Animal Management, Care or Conservation? Whatever your learning requirements, we have courses ranging from beginner all the way to professional and university level. Bridgwater College offers a variety of options regardless of whether it is for hobby or career.