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Thailand: 4 meaningful wildlife experiences

By Kelly Eng 17 March 2022

Header image courtesy of Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST) (via Facebook)

Four-year-old elephant Me-Bai trod obediently on the path she walks over 10 times daily, while the tourists on her back cheered and clapped in excitement. No matter how exhausted she was, she dared not to fall nor run away. 

Only Me-Bai knew that, with just one tiny mistake, she would get another whip and no food for the day. She trod and trod until she lost too much weight to carry anyone, and someone finally rescued her from this seemingly never-ending torture. 

While elephant riding is a popular activity for tourists, only a minority of people are aware of the cruelty behind this industry. When going on vacations, there are many humane ways to interact with wildlife without causing harm to the animal in question. 

Consider, for example, spending a day or two visiting conservation centres or national parks to learn more about animal welfare. For your next trip to Thailand, choose from one (or more) of these wildlife experiences to create meaningful memories with different animals.

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Photo: Elephant Nature Park (via Facebook)
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Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

Since 2000, the number of elephants has dropped from millions across Asia to only 30,000 total across the globe. Many elements contribute to the decline of the elephant population, but the biggest cause is the illegal practice of poaching for ivory. Moreover, like the story mentioned above, elephant abuse continues to this day in the tourist industry, and these pachyderms either suffer until death or remain traumatised long after being rescued.

Aiming to provide a sanctuary for these endangered species, the Elephant Nature Park is a rehabilitation centre located in Chiang Mai that allows visitors to volunteer. Dozens of elephants, cats, dogs, buffaloes, and other rescued species reside here, and the community members work hard to make the animals feel at ease.

If intrigued, you can sign up for a single day or overnight visit to the conservation. There are multiple packages for you to purchase, each including different activities such as forest walk with elephants, feeding and river bathing while observing their behaviour. There are also seven-day programs for you to join and be involved in their Dog Rescue Project! 

Don’t worry about booking rooms and buying meals because both are included in the packages. Other than learning about animal protection strategies, you will have the chance to go jungle hiking and water rafting too! You can simply visit their website to book your stay. 

Elephant Nature Park, 1 Ratmakka Road, Phra Sing, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

Photo: Ramon Vloon (via Unsplash)
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Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, Phuket

Do you know that gibbons communicate by singing? Howling across the jungles through different vocal tones, these beautiful creatures proclaim territory or alert each other of nearby predators. However, the immense loss of habitat and illegal trade have threatened their survival, and they are now considered the most endangered primate species of the world.

Fortunately, non-profit organisations like the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (GRP) are striving to save and heal illegally captivated gibbons until they can be released back to the wild. Over 350 gibbons have been rescued and the GRP educates its visitors on conservation strategies.

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Located in Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, the GRP is open to visitors 365 days a year. However, it is important to keep in mind that this place is not a zoo, and only minimal human contact with the gibbons is allowed for both visitors and carers, as the GRP puts a strong emphasis on education and ethical tourism. If you plan to visit Phuket, spare half a day for a tour of the centre to learn more about this magnificent cause! 

Afterwards, walk through Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, the last remaining rainforest of Phuket, and take in the breathtaking natural sceneries.

Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, 104/3 Moo 3 Paklock, Talang, Phuket 83110, Thailand

Photo: Big Blue Conservation (via Facebook)
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Big Blue Conservation, Koh Tao

Remember Squirt and Crush from Finding Nemo, the sea turtles that brought Marlin to Sydney Harbour when he was looking for his lost son, Nemo? At Sydney Harbour, you might actually catch a glimpse of a sea turtle or two if you are lucky enough. Nonetheless, if you want to know more about these gentle creatures or even swim with them, go to Big Blue Conservation in Koh Tao for a meaningful learning session.

Like elephants and gibbons, turtles are also exploited for human benefits, hunted for their carapaces to make products like jewellery, while their eggs are poached for the exotic food trade. Marine turtles are extremely important for maintaining a balance in the coastal ecosystem, yet they remain vulnerable to human activities and climate change.

By enrolling in the conservation’s SSI Sea Turtle Ecology speciality programme, you can spend a day understanding the history of turtles and the roles they play in marine ecosystems. In addition, in the SSI Fish ID and SSI Coral ID courses, certified open water divers will get the opportunity to differentiate between marine species while scuba diving.

Another great way to contribute to wildlife is through the Koh Tao beach clean-ups, since discarded waste can also significantly harm the well-being of marine life. Big Blue Conservation provides several hotel options for visitors, so if you are planning to go scuba diving or beach hopping in Thailand, why not visit this place for a greater cause instead?

Big Blue Conservation, 9/98 Moo 1 Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, Surat Thani 84360, Thailand

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Photo: Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST) (via Facebook)
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Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST), Bangkok

You can see and do so many things in the capital of Thailand. When exploring the street life and cultural landmarks in Bangkok, consider taking some time to learn about urban birds, too! As we continue to reshape and develop our surrounding lands, we are also destroying natural habitats, which creates various survival threats for many bird species.

In a busy city like Bangkok, the main causes of their deaths include collisions with human structures and poisoning by contaminants. Birds, however, play a major role in our ecosystem; in fact, we need birds more than they need us! All the greenery around us cannot live without their care, and the reproduction of plants cannot be sustained without them.

Bird Conservation Society, the oldest organisation dedicated to conserving birds and nature in Thailand, aims to raise awareness of urban birds. Since its establishment, the organisation has been supporting scientific research of priority birds, expanding its public outreach, and promoting nature conservation issues in Thailand and Southeast Asia. 

If interested, you can visit the office in Bangkok and sign up for different activities. A popular event is the Bird Walk, which is open to the public for free. It gives visitors a chance to stroll around urban parks with telescopes and guidance from professional bird leaders, identifying bird species and learning fun facts about them. BCST also hosts nature trail hikes from time to time, and you can always visit its website to stay updated on the ongoing events.

Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST), 2/F, 77 Lan Luang Road, Sommanat Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Bangkok 10100, Thailand | (+66) 02 075 1418

While expanding our lands and exploiting resources from nature, we have also created problems like ocean acidification, permafrost melting, air pollution, eutrophication, glacier retreats, and much more, creating many threats to most wildlife. It is crucial for us to understand the damage we have made before it is too late to make any changes.

Paying a visit to conservations or simply learning to appreciate nature could be your first step towards protecting wildlife. With that said, it is best to avoid elephant camps with riding and performances, tours at the Chiang Mai Zoo, night safari, and tiger or monkey attractions, since they are potentially quite unethical and abusive towards animals.

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Kelly Eng

Writer

From dipping hot Cheetos in birthday cake ice cream to scuba-diving despite being ocean-phobic, Kelly loves exploring new and weird things with her family and friends. While her talents are eating and napping, she enjoys dancing, writing, and socialising as well. As an advocate of pineapple pizzas and durian tofu pudding, Kelly is also a passionate fan of K-pop, romance fiction, and sea otters.

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