Every day, through the news, through social media, through my smarter more learned friends that do have much more knowledge and better outlooks on situations, I learn new things about animals, conservation what’s going on that needs to stop, what is or isn’t helping and why. I try to keep on top of news when it concerns animals. When it comes to social media that can be a double edged sword as its not all true and sometimes just opinion, not always the right one.
What I’m getting at is its very important to me that everything I do, all the placements, they are at the right place with animal welfare the top priority. For example there are lots of ‘tiger temples’ that are just tourist attractions and the tigers are made to pose for photos and they are obviously stressed. If there’s one thing they teach you at animal college, it is the five freedoms, what every animal must have freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, freedom from stress, and free to express normal behaviour. I’ve seen articles about these tiger places with pictures and its clear that the animals are not showing natural behaviour they are stressed and traumatised and miserable. It terrifies me that I could book a placement only to find a disgusting tourist trap where the animals are not cared for and their welfare is not important to the workers.
Overall, the panda volunteering was by far my favourite. For the whole experience. The panda sanctuary is brilliant, the keepers are very caring towards their pandas and their pandas do bond with them after a time. They bond a little with the volunteers if they are there long enough which sadly I wasn’t. The enclosures were good, lots of places where they can hide, lots of trees, where they can stay all day if they want! Lots of signs around the place about treating animals kindly. Outside of the volunteering we had lots of fun evenings at the panda bar or having language lessons they kept us busy doing great stuff, they didn’t just leave us to it. I couldn’t have asked for better company everyone was so nice and interesting.
The volunteer work was good we got to clean out enclosures and feed the pandas and feel like we were helping.
The bear sanctuary comes second. They took brilliant care of the bears and made every effort to make their environment as much like the wild as possible. The poor bears had been denied that from the horrible people who had taken them and put them in circuses or outside a shop as an attraction or sold as a pet so many heartbreaking stories. Now that that has been banned they get to live out their years in this sanctuary where they never have to perform for food or their next meal. Again, great enclosures huge, lots of places to hide, everything that a brown bear needs. I felt very proud to be volunteering for such a great place that was so good to its animals. No constant tourists either just scheduled tours throughout the day so the public are all kept an eye on too! The only reason I rate the panda sanctuary number one was the volunteer work with the brown bears was a bit less meaningful. A lot of gardening, raking leaves and not really feeling like you are helping! I can’t complain too much though because I was so happy to be a part of such a great place, and meet all the other rescue animals too all the dogs, and the wolves and the donkeys not just bears. But mostly bears of course!
I recently watched a programme about zoos and whether they were really helping the conservation of animals or whether they should shut down. I thought it was a good programme actually. I think the overall conclusion is that lots of animals can thrive in captivity with the right care and the five freedoms, but some species just should NOT be. Whales are a big example of this. Me and one of my friends have what we call ‘sea world shame.’ As in, we both went when we were kids in Florida. Of course we didn’t know then what we know now. I’m grateful for the black fish documentary even though it is heart breaking but it has taught me so much. And its made a big difference as well as sea world no longer breeds them or puts on their killer whale shows. They seem to be changing their image, trying to use the word conservation a bit more!
So to sum up, if you are looking into doing an animal trip, first thing to look into is the welfare of the animals at your chosen place. World animal protection have a brilliant website with tips on what to look out for, what is wrong and they also have a list of respected places. The animals must have the five freedoms. Obviously if you aren’t personally going to see the place until you are there, look at tourist reviews. Contact world animal protection for advice. Speak to the travel company about the care of the animals.
So that’s the most important point. I have always chosen packages for my trips, some include everything, some include everything except insurance, flights and visa, some don’t include food. I like to ensure I book one that includes taking to and from the airport as it saves so much trouble! That, and I’m a wuss who doesn’t want to drive abroad!