By Alison Proudfoot – 1 week volunteer
Seven other vet students and I are on day five out of our week long stay at the Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary and so far we have all thoroughly enjoyed our time here. As we are all from very different backgrounds it was always going to be interesting to see how we would all adjust to the way of life in this little rural Karen hill tribe village in the north of Thailand, but surprisingly apart from a few additional mosquito bites, slightly more frizzy hair and the lack of nail varnish we still resemble ourselves and personally I would say you could nearly mistake us for one of the locals.
Each day here is different but without fail we begin each morning after breakfast with a hike into the forest to look for the animals we all came here to observe. The hike can vary in length depending on how far the elephants have wandered but during our first two days here they put us to the test, as at the end of our hour long hike to the place they were was a river and an extremely steep hill. No matter how easy the mahouts make it look, crossing a river which is over your knees is never easy but of course once you finally reach Too Meh, Mae Doom, Boon Rott and Gen Thong it makes it all worthwhile.
The first day in the forest was just an introduction which included Gen Thong bullying the newbies out of all our bananas, lots of photos but just mainly staring in awe of the amazing creatures standing before us. The second and third day though we were put to work, helping with data taking on both the elephants social and eating behaviours, which as vet students we obviously found very interesting and hopefully useful for the future.
Today there was an additional task involved as we preformed the weekly health checks during our two hour visit, this has been my favourite experience with the elephants so far. Kerri, one of the founders here directed us through the whole examination, giving us a hands-on, learning experience. We began by allocating jobs, Hannah was banana feeder, the most vital role, while Sarah and I each took a side of the elephant to examine. We started by checking for cracked toenails, then moving swiftly along looking for any lesions or ulcerations on the skin, removing any bugs or insects on the skin or behind the ears and finally checking to see if the eyes and mouths look healthy. In my opinion this is a very efficient general health check which is thorough yet quick and clearly effective as all four elephants are clearly in great health.
I will be very sad to leave this place as it has not only introduced me to healthy elephants living their best life in captivity but to a whole different way of life, I might even miss the dreaded river. Kindred Spirit clearly care for their elephants the best they can as seen by their efforts to introduce something as small as a weekly health checks. Kerri and her team have showed nothing but passion and love for their animals and jobs and therefore have made our short time here the best experience we could have asked for.