It’s natural to want to see a city’s popular landmarks, or to try activities unique to a particular destination. But may we also suggest checking out and contributing to a good cause? You never know; it could result in a much more meaningful travel experience. Alicia, for one, is all for it. She takes us to the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), where she had a couple of memorable encounters with rescued animals – and came out with a renewed sense of purpose.
I was planning a holiday to Bangkok and wanted to incorporate animals into my itinerary – but not participate in their exploitation.
Unfortunately, inhumane practices are common in tourist attractions centered around animals, and they are often abusive by nature. Lucky for me, my friend stumbled upon an organisation called Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), which rescues and rehabilitates animals.
Don’t forget to set an alarm
We started our day bright and early at 7:30am. A driver picked us up and we started our three-hour drive out of the heart of Bangkok to WFFT. Upon arriving, we were given some refreshments before splitting into groups.
We meet a gentle giant
The first animal we got to see was this beautiful 73-year-old lady! She was saved from exploitation as a riding elephant from the tourism industry. Our guide pointed out that her ear is damaged and she has scars on her back from being poked at with knives. Her back is also bent (notice the U shape?) from the weight of people sitting on her for so many years. Sadly, almost all of their rescued elephants share the same story. Another elephant had a square mark on her back, which is where the seat for humans used to be when she was exploited as a riding elephant.
She’s now well looked after
We say hello to some primates too
We were then introduced to families of gibbons, many of whom were given up as former pets. WFFT aims to rehabilitate and eventually release them as far as it’s feasible. However, because some of them were captive from birth, they have no natural instincts that are crucial to help them survive in the wild. In those cases, they’ll live out their days with their friends under WFFT’s care.
You realise the damage is far-reaching
I truly had no idea how prevalent the illegal pet trade in Thailand was – there were many surrendered pets, including otters, iguanas, bears, monkeys and a crocodile.
At the otters’ enclosure, our guide cautioned us not to have any physical contact with them as WFFT is attempting to stop them from craving human affection. The otters didn’t even know how to eat fish, which is part of their natural diet, because they’ve been under the care of humans since birth. They also came to WFFT with skin issues as they were deprived of a large body of water for them to soak and swim in.
We’re at a safe distance away from the otters…
… and the crocodile too
But now it’s time to eat
After visiting a number of different enclosures, we headed back to have our lunch break at around 1pm.
The buffet was incredible, and three out of the five items were vegan! I do find it strange that they’re serving meat at an animal sanctuary, but that’s a conversation for another time.
We appreciate the vegan options
We interact with more gentle giants
When we were done with lunch, we finally got up close and personal with some elephants!
After the guide went through some of the basic rules (like how you should always approach an elephant from the front), we took turns feeding the girls some fruits. We also got to pet their sides and give them a good wash.
They deserve a pat on the back
Plus lots of H2O
And we make more discoveries
We spent the next few hours touring the facility, seeing more animals away from the central area and learning about their rescue programmes. The guides were extremely professional and helpful – it was a real eye-opener learning about the hardships all the animals went through before ending up in this safe haven.
We also come across some sad truths
There was even an enclosure full of disabled long-tailed macaques – a result of poor nutrition when their mothers were pregnant. Another macaque was extremely obese, and we were told that it was rescued as a pet and was kept in a bar! It was heartbreaking to learn that customers and employees would feed it human food and even beer.
The tour ended at around 3:30pm, and we were educated on how we can avoid supporting animal exploitation, especially when it comes to tourism. A “once in a lifetime” for us is a lifetime of suffering for them, so here are a couple of pointers to take note of the next time you’re on vacation!
1. Don’t take photos with animals being used as props.
2. Don’t go to animal shows, circuses that use animals, or visit elephant or tiger camps.
3. Don’t purchase animal souvenirs, such as ivory or snake or tiger wine.
I highly recommend putting WFFT on your itinerary the next time you’re in Bangkok. It’s a great way to support an ethical rescue centre while enjoying the company of animals!