This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Thailand and participate in a veterinary externship with Asian elephants. I had always been infatuated with elephants, and had even applied for international externship funding the previous year to work with Asian elephants in India. Luckily the second time around it worked out!
A friend of mine, Lydia Tiller, was already in Northern Thailand doing cognitive research on elephants with the group “Think Elephants International”, when I approached her about the idea of a veterinary externship. She connected me with John Roberts, the Director of Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, and Dr. Cherry Keratimanochaya, the Head Veterinarian at GTAEF. As I gathered more information about the externship, another opportunity presented itself: Dr. Cherry would be at the elephant hospital of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center during my visit, and I would be allowed to join her.
I arrived to Thailand in mid-June and spent my first week at the TECC. The TECC is an incredible place for Thailand’s Asian elephants. The Center houses and cares for the King’s Ten Royal White Elephants, it is home to Thailand’s National Elephant Institute, and it provides a sanctuary for over sixty rescued elephants. It also has an elephant hospital, a mobile elephant clinic, and an elephant rescue clinic.
During my week there I assisted multiple veterinarians at the elephant hospital. The majority of the elephants at the hospital were receiving veterinary care for foot problems, wounds, abscesses, sunburns, and eye problems. The facility was relatively modern and they even had digital x-rays. On one of the days, I shadowed a doctor as we did a “house call” to check on a lame elephant that was used for trekking tourism. Overall, the TECC provided exceptional hands-on veterinary experience with elephants.
After the TECC, I spent another 10 days working at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. The GTAEF aims to set up a safe haven for abused elephants, or those who cannot work, while providing employment for good mahouts (which allows them to continue working elephants). The foundation is located on the grounds of the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort and is home to about thirty rescued elephants.
During my stay at the GTEAF I was able to work alongside one of their veterinarians. The elephants at the foundation were actually relatively healthy and didn’t need much veterinary attention. Instead, I focused much of my time learning about the importance of elephants in Thai culture, the cognitive research being done by Think Elephants International, and conservation efforts being made to save this magnificent species from extinction. I shared this knowledge with guests of the resort daily, and taught them about veterinary basics as well.
All in all, the international externship in Thailand was one of the best experiences of my life. I feel like it was just a glimpse into what other opportunities lies ahead. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without support, so I want to say thank you to the international externship committee for allowing me to make this possible!