Thanks to a friend of mine from Edinburgh who had previously done a placement there, I managed to arrange a two week volunteer placement at the Chiang Mai Night Safari with Dr Bon, a local wildlife vet.
The park was government run. Animals kept in the park were the following: giraffes, zebras, ostrich, hippopotamus, rhinos, elands, kudu, wilder beats, deer, guar, tapirs, cassowary, llama, kangaroos, wallabies, wart hogs, climbing goats, white bengal tigers, siberian tigers, lions, jaguar, hyena, leopards, vultures, binturongs, otters, porcupines, sun bears, gibbons, macaques, turtles, crocodiles, elephants, albino raccoons and many more.
Unfortunately it wasn’t the busiest when we were around but both Max and I love engaging with wildlife and after the Kanchanaburi Safari Park volunteering back in December 2014, we were looking forward to this. We even took the time to make personalised t-shirts with the safari logo on it so that staff would recognise us as volunteers and not assume we were visitors.
Some mornings we joined the Nursery team in our pink scrubs to clean enclosures and met the two six month old white bengal tigers, who were very playful and wanted to play bite and jump on you so we had to control them with a gentle tap on the head with a small stick. Funny how they obey with a stick they could easily maul. They loved to play in the water troughs and soak us with their wet paws.
- Chiang Mai Night Safari volunteering -
There were many animals from the cat family you could stroke through the fence with caution of course, such as the black spotted leopards, siberian tigers, lions and jaguar. After finishing at the nursery one of the staff took us to see the horses, ponies and donkeys. They had a few adult ponies and two young ones, they were smallest ponies we have ever seen. Visitors could horse ride and during the night a few of them were transported to the park entrance for visitors to feed and pet, along with bottle feeding the kids (young goats). Staff would dress up in cowboy gear to look the part.
Another morning we joined Nim, a local zoo keeper, at the cattle section. We were introduced to the Malayan Tapirs and fed and cleaned their enclosures. After lunch we chopped buckets full of vegetables and fruits and she and her husband took us around to feed the guars, cassowary, llama and various antelope species.
One of my funniest moments was seeing a local girl around 10 years of age playing with a Tapir. The tapir was obviously tame as it just stood by her whilst she hugged it and climbed on it’s back and tried to make it move by dangling a string attached to a stick in front of its face. I found it very amusing to watch as it was such a normal thing for her.
One of the highlights was picking up a special kind of cargo from Chiang Mai airport at 8:30pm one night….Cheetahs! Three gorgeous cheetahs had been bought from Pretoria, South Africa, and a team of around ten staff greeted them and transported them to isolation enclosures on site where they would remain for a month. Releasing them into their separate enclosures was entertaining to watch as it had to be done quickly and the male did not want to exit the cargo box. Once out they were weary of their surroundings and stated at us, hissing. They were left separated for a week before reuniting them for the next three weeks.
Three lions, one male and two females, from Pretoria had also been bought two weeks before we had arrived. These lions looked in great condition and were very tame, probably having been hand reared. They had been bought to add genes to the gene pool and avoid inbreeding at the park.
On the Thursday and Friday of the first week the Fishing Cat research team which comprised of vets and assistants from the Safari Park, the University faculty and Tiger Kingdom. Their incentive was to artificially inseminated fishing cats to help the endangered species. Having previously failed in four cats a few months back, they attempted to impregnate another four females. One female had successfully got pregnant but aborted during birth.
We got to observe the collecting of the semen from the anaesthetised males and the inserting of the semen into the female laparoscopically. The collected semen was evaluated using microscopes to determine the quality and they were pleased to learn that one particular male produced semen with 85% motility which is very good.
Two of he mornings we joined the vets for case rounds, so we drove around the park following up cases. They mainly attended fight wounds on tigers and a wart hog, which had to be darted with antibiotics. Dr Mew (a local female vet) taught us how to make homemade dart syringes using gas and we practised shooting with the dart pole on card board boxes. One of the days where Dr Bon also had two fifth year university students with him, we checked out a restraining chamber for a giraffe which was huge compared to those I had previously seen only for cattle and a very angry jaguar with a paw laceration.
Another highlight was visiting the porcupines with the vets when two were born that morning. They were the smallest and cutest little things ever with their spines starting to grow on their backside. We got to hold a month old albino porcupine called Boulan? (meaning moon) which was very tame as had been hand reared. I was fascinated with this little critter, weird to stroke because of it’s spines but it’s ears were so soft.
Later on in the week we met Boulan again at the photo corner where Nim had told us to join. This time he was being bottle fed and was sleepy as a result but I held him in a towel as he fell asleep.
Being volunteers Dr Bon got us free tickets to attend the Savannah and Predator Safari tours and also the Predator Show. The safari was nice as the animals were kept away during the day until the tours started at 3pm so we didn’t get to see these animals during work hours. We got to see wallabies and kangaroos which was cool, we did not expect the kangaroos to be so big and lie on the ground like a human on it’s side. The Predator Show was one like no other we had watched before. There were no people involved, just animals showing how they would act in their natural habitat and the audience were separated by glass. There was a deep pool made of glass so the audience could see through and watch the animals swim. The otters opened up the show, swimming around catching dead fish from the bottom of the tank. Lions, tigers, a jaguar and a hyena were released into this big enclosure to feed. The tigers and jaguar would jump into the deep water and swim to the bottom to pick up food. It was great seeing them swim like this, seeing their powerful strokes as they swam down. Bintourongs and Porcupines were also part of the show and these were released on platforms extending the length of the auditorium. It was a fun show to watch as it was different to tigers, the animals were not made to do tricks or perform.
During one of our random drives on our scooter around the park we came across two tiger mixes, a mix between a white Bengal tiger and a Siberian tiger, producing a wonderfully coloured mixed tiger.
Another highlight, which was on my bucket list, was accidentally coming across an elephant learning how to paint. I had seen this on the internet a while back and contacted some sanctuaries with no luck. Elephants are taught to paint and their painting are quite pricey to buy. We met a local artist who works with the mahout patiently to teach the elephant brush strokes and demands. This elephant we saw was a beginner so was learning how to do vertical brush strokes on a canvas. The paint brush was a normal brush joined to a stick perpendicular to it so the elephant could hold it with it’s trunk. They would only make him do several strokes before having a feeding or bathing break. The painting were numbered to see the progression. Two days later we visited again and watched a more experienced elephant paint, which was able to paint a flower like portrait. You could definitely see the difference between the beginner and the experience who had been painting for around two years. The elephants are taught in a relaxed manner and are kept entertained by this, it’s a break from being chained up in my opinion. The elephants at this park are better kept than other places though. You can see the mahouts care for them and they are allowed to roam free in a big enclosure or by a small forest for part of the day. Even though they still had … hooks they didn’t use them at all whilst we were there, they would just gently nudge them with their hands.
The day before our last day of work the park organised to drive one of the small elephants, which was tame and used to people, around the city on a big pick up truck in preparation for Songkran. The truck was reversed on to a hill and the elephant was escorted on to the truck. Large pieces of wood were tied to the truck to confine the elephant, it’s amazing how things can be done here which would not be allowed to in other countries. The elephant was calm, accompanied by one of the mahouts and the elephant was more concerned about getting his trunk into the bag of bananas instead of being on the truck. A large water container was filled attached to a hose which sprayed a mist of water, used to cool down the elephant and the elephant would hold the hose and spray around the truck. We drove behind the truck with the vets in a pick up car and followed the elephant around the city. Songkran still hadn’t began so the streets were not busy yet. We stopped at one point to refill the water canister from the water tank truck also following behind. The drive didn’t last more than an hour. Some would say it is cruel but being there and seeing the process, it was all done in a calm fashion and the elephant didn’t seem distressed at all.