Are you an animal enthusiast? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk amongst giraffes? Or cuddle cubs for an entire day? Being an animal lover I dreamt about all of this before I took the leap and volunteered at Kanchanburi Safari Park, Thailand. Having done previous work with lions and wildlife in South Africa Max and I decided to help out for two weeks during our travels throughout Asia and without doubt this was one of our best experiences we brought back home with us after being away for nine months!
It was all very exciting on our first day and then during our stay it became our 'normal' daily routine but there was NOTHING normal about it. The cool reality was we spent our days interacting with animals many people could only DREAM of relating to. The memories we were able to create by bottle-feeding leopard and lion cubs, hand feeding Barking deer, playing with 5 month old leopards, petting a friendly zebra, feeding giraffes bananas from our mouths and walking a tiger on a leash, will stay with us always!
The memories created during our volunteering will
stay with us always.
Would I go back? In a heart beat, it was a remarkable experience which I would recommend to anyone and I can thank Kanchanaburi Safari Park for letting me experience all these unforgettable unique moments I will cherish dearly.
Our journey from Ayutthaya to Kanchanaburi was long in relation to the distance covered but it was the only way of arriving at Kwai Bridge by midday. Departing at 7am from Ayutthaya and travelling two hours by minivan to Supanburi then jumping on to a local bus for the last two hours.
We had the best welcome from Mr Tipp and a 5 week old leopard cub near the Kwai Bridge. Kristen, an American, joined us and we set off for the park once Tat arrived. Our transport was a cool safari themed bus!
Our day-by-day account:
Our first day was basically an introduction of the Rescue (mainly primates) and Large Cat section, meeting Mr Joe (owners son) and settling into our accommodation. We didn’t expect much of our room prior to our arrival and we’re glad as we were only given a mattress on the floor with a mosquito net and cold water showers, but it wasn’t long until we found bits and bobs to make it more comfortable to live in. Luckily future volunteers will have hot water which we enjoyed for a few days and beds, desks and cupboards as the staff managed to achieve this.
Having been told horror stories about cobras in the room, scorpions under the bed sheets and awakening with a swollen eye and lip by the current volunteers we ensured our room was completely sealed, even then it still didn't stop us finding a scorpion in our room! Yikes! During the evenings we were lucky to have six puppies to keep us busy and a chicken named Charlie as there was no television. Tat was trying to get Charlie to lay eggs and during our two weeks they set up a large coup for her. Dinner wasn’t the best, usually rice accompanied by chicken or beef, but we're not fussy eaters. Beingdelivered ot us around 5pm we were able to have early nights which went well with the 7:30am starts!
The safari park was divided into the Rescue, Cat House, Elephants, Crocodiles, Cubs and Safari sections. The volunterring program days were split up as Rescue, Cubs and Birds, most days being Rescue. This programme wasn't associated with the Cat Team as they ran a different program but luckily we were able to go play with three 5 month old leopards, a tiger named Fluke and a 7 month old lion, any day after 4:30pm. On one morning extra help was needed transferring Fluke and Chloe from their night enclosures to the Cat section which entailed two of us per cat holding tightly held leashes on either side to protect one another in case the cat decided to 'play' with you. I tell you one thing...you needed to have a lot of faith on the other person and there were times that I was actually scared! However, walking Fluke was a unique moment for me.
Playing with the leopards Chloe the lion
On our first week we worked with Kristen and two Aussie girls, Rebecca and Ebony. The Rescue section was a mere 5 minute walk from our accomodation and everyday we were accompanied by Houdini and Jock, two of the puppies, which always made the walk interesting.
During the mornings at Rescue day each individual primate had to be moved to the adjoining cage to enable us to clean their enclosure. We hid food around their enclosures for behavioural enrichment purposes. At the time of our visitation there were two gibbons (Chutney and Dobby), five macaques (Jam, Gramps, Laura, Junior and Raj), a langer (Trouble), a civet (Panda), two jackels (Quinn and Harley) and two bintourongs (Sydney and Wendy). Quinn and Harley were the newest members to the park. Our aim was to gain their confidence and towards the end of our stay Quinn could be walked on a leash! One of my highlights was feeding Raj Soya milk out of the carton through the fence.
The civet (Panda), was nocturnal so she only ate in the morning if you ‘spoon fed’ her, and the jackels, Quinn and Harley were harmless so we were able to enter the enclosures with them inside. Additionally there were Barking deer and Digs, a cassowary (a bird native to Australia with a large middle toe which can disembowl you). Cleaning usually went on until around 10:30am allowing us to work on individual projects to improve the park. Max started to build a petting garden out of bamboo and some of us beautified the volunteer resting area.
In the afternoons we were kept busy chopping and preparing food for each individual, meeting their feeding requirements and hand feeding them all one at a time, those less trust worthy with a stick through the enclosure. The jackels and Wendy, the blind male bintourong, were the only rescue animals we could hand feed inside the enclosure and Quinn loved been scratched under her chin, little cutie pie.
Cub day was the most relaxed of duties. It comprised of playing/lying with the three 5 week old leopard cubs or the 7 week old lion cub (Snow) and bottle-feeding them every few hours. The leopards were definitely my favourite but playing with them was a challenge given their biting nature, the larger male being the worse, pouncing on me ready to play and not allowing the other two who just wanted to nap on my lap. Snow would have a nap following her feed and would be tucked into with a blanket. it was one of the cutest sights! There were also three 5 month old leopard cubs which we had to take caution around. being larger they could draw blood when playing so we only fed or helped Toi, the cub staff member, manage them while customers posed for photos. Blue, the adult male tiger, was also there at an arms reach chained to a wooden table for photo purposes sadly enough. He was not sedated like in many cases but just so used to people he hardly cared. Afternoons were the busiest so it meant less time relaxing enjoying our quiet time with the cats and more time spent dealing with excited loud customers.
The perks of volunteering was the Salapong tour and Safari bus tour. Salapong was one of the Thai staff members who was responsible for feeding all the 'safari' animals i.e. the animals kept in the reserve for the safari tours. He would take two volunteers at a time each day to feed the animals with him. His tour on a side car motorbike was by far the best and truly a once in a life time experience as we walked in amongst the animals, feeding deer, zebras and giraffes on foot, something you can’t just do anywhere. Spot the zebra was curious and friendly and the only zebra to approach us. Feeding the giraffes bananas by mouth was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve done, I mean who doesn’t appreciate giraffe saliva on their face?! This was not a tour open to the public but during our stay the park began to offer the tour to the customers at extra cost.
"Fill your life with experiences, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show."
The safari bus tour was also a highlight, driving through the safari grounds passing deer, tigers, lions and bears and having the chance to feed the greedy sneaky giraffe again, this time with them bombarding every open window of the safari bus in search for the bowl of bananas.
We spent Christmas Day at the park which was pretty odd as it didn’t feel a lot like Christmas and we worked every single day of the two weeks. Saying this it didn’t stop us hanging decorations, wearing Christmas hats and cooking a wooden fire BBQ meal in the jungle for lunch. We spent the morning on the rescue team and running around taking photos of animals with the Christmas hat.
We were sad to say goodbye after such a memorable experience. We had been treated so well and will cherish some of our best experiences at this safari park. Thanks to Tat for making this all possible and being the great dedicated person she is. We both highly recommend volunteering with this project. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Tat directly via email: firstname.lastname@example.org