Fee from The Wildlife Wanderer writes about her experience volunteering at The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project in Phuket Thailand and offers valuable advice to others wanting to volunteer with animals.
Hi, I'm Fee. Volunteering with animals is my passion. At first, it was a way to get the experience I needed to land my dream job. It turns out; my dream is to continue volunteering! I want to help animals that need extra support, love, attention and a voice to create much-needed awareness around the world. To volunteer, is to sacrifice your time to help others in greater need.
If you have found yourself reading this article, you must have an interest in volunteering. Your generosity, kindness and passion to want to help others are incredibly rare and you should know that about yourself.
When you volunteer with animals, you are often dealing with helpless, mistreated, voiceless beings who have suffered unimaginable circumstances at the hands of uncaring, non-compassionate humans. Money is often the cause of animals suffering, but it can also be due to lack of education. Whenever I search for a project to support I ensure that education is a large aspect of their work, education to the local community and tourists alike. Without ongoing education, the mistakes already made will continue to occur.
Volunteering in Thailand with White-handed Gibbons at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project was my first overseas volunteer experience and one that will live with me forever. It was challenging, rewarding, joyful, sad, frustrating, tiring and emotional but most of all it was inspiring. I worked alongside volunteers from all over the world, helping the local staff ensure all the animals in their care were healthy, fed, clean, safe and free from harm.
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project aims te repopulate the Gibbon back to the region where it was originally poached to extinction over 40 years ago; the last remaining rainforest in Phuket-Khao Pra Theaw Non- Hunting Area (Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation).
As a volunteer, I had the responsibility of educating the tourists that visited the project. I explained why this project was necessary and how they could help stop the gibbon pet trade. I also had the opportunity to speak to local school children about the projects efforts and its mission. The project opened my eyes to the suffering these animals endure before they arrive at the project.
There are still many gibbons who continue to endure pain and suffering living on the streets of Asia. Used as photo props, or to entice tourists into local bars. If you are in Asia and see a baby gibbon with his handler on the streets, asking for money to have your photo taken with the gibbon, please refuse!
Drugging the gibbons is common practice, to help them stay awake after dark and to keep them docile. Some have had their canines removed, to reduce the chances of them attacking and causing harm. When gibbons are used in bars to entice tourists inside, they are often chained, have been taught how to drink out of a straw, drink alcohol and even smoke cigarettes! This is no way for any wild animal to live. Eventually, they become older and too hard to handle. They are then kept in a small cage in a basement, rarely fed and ultimately abandoned.
The lucky ones are surrendered, confiscated or rescued and placed in a charity where they can be rehabilitated and possibly released. If you see a gibbon on the street, please be a responsible tourist and report it to the police. Please don't buy the gibbon! For every baby found on the street, a family of gibbons have been killed. As a result, we do not want their handlers to have a reason to get another gibbon.
If you want to volunteer in Asia with animals, just make sure the project is doing what is best for the animals and not for the benefit of themselves. Do your research and make sure the well-being of the animals is their priority. This will ensure that donations are appropriately allocated and that the project is sustainable within the community.
Ask the project the following questions:
1 How much are you paying and where is the money going?
2 What is the project's mission?
3 Do they have an Education Centre to create awareness?
4 Are they involved with the local communities in rescuing and rehabilitating the animals?
5 Are they offering another form of income, rather than animal exploitation for the local community?
There are many things to consider before embarking on a volunteer expedition; research is important! I wish you the best of luck getting out into the world and volunteering your time for a good cause.
I hope it is as satisfying and inspiring as it has been for me. Please follow along on my adventures and learn about the other places I have volunteered my time or contact me for further advice.
Fee has volunteered at over ten different animal organisations around the world, from zoological parks, private wildlife shelters, wildlife sanctuaries and veterinary clinics.
Please Note: Due to the current global pandemic, the centre is not open to volunteers. The rescues are still continuing and the support for each Gibbon is always required. You can support online and donate via the website.