Curated by Sophie Dubus
Photos by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand
The Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand is a multi-species wildlife rescue centre located in Petchaburi province, about 2.5 hours southwest of Bangkok, near to Thailand’s largest national park – Kaeng Krachan.
How it started
WFFT was founded in 2001 by Dutch-born Edwin Wiek, a former businessman in the fashion industry. It seems a strange deviation, from fashion to wildlife, and initially it was unintentional. Edwin had rescued 2 young macaque monkeys and was taking them to a sanctuary, but when he arrived he did not find the conditions suitable, and so he looked after them himself.
The young monkeys provided much education for Edwin, and he began to understand the plight of wildlife in the country. Often bought as pets, cute when they are young babies and then abandoned when they become unruly teenagers, or left imprisoned in small cages.
Edwin did not find a suitable sanctuary to look after these two youngsters, but fortunately the Abbot of a local temple, loaned a large piece of land on which he could build his own.
My personal experience
I first discovered WFFT in 2003. What initially drew me to it was the presence of a tiger, as well as numerous other animals. I have always been a huge wildlife fanatic, especially of big cats, and the chance to be close to a tiger was a big draw. I initially booked a one-month stay, though I soon fell in love with the place, the animals, the people and the country, and didn’t want to leave! When my time came to leave I decided to cut the rest of my travels short and return to volunteer for another few weeks. The desire to travel waned as I realised there were all these creatures needing my help. And I have been back countless times since.
Back then there were only about 30 animals, I could name each and every one! Today there are around 700. Here you can find monkeys, gibbons, otters, bears, deer, birds, big cats, elephants and many more.
The aim of WFFT is to rescue, rehabilitate and release, where possible. Unfortunately as many animals have developed medical conditions or become too used to humans, release is not always possible, but when it is, it’s a beautiful thing to see. Those animals who remain at WFFT are well looked after, with good sized enclosures, nutritious food and enrichments to entertain them. Enclosures are always being enlarged and improved where possible.
During my first time there, there were only a handful of volunteers and it was hard work! Now they have the capacity to accept many more – though I’m sure it is still hard work, but enjoyable and rewarding too.
A volunteer typical day
My day began at sunrise, preparing food for the myriad of animals, many requiring slight alterations to their diet. Most of the animals back then were primates, so cutting up a lot of fruit and vegetables and boiling sweet potato was what we frequently prepared. The food for the felines was prepared by the Thai staff. After feeding the animals, we fed ourselves, had a short break and then back to work! Cleaning up around the enclosures, fixing fences, building new enclosures, there was always work to be done. In the evenings we usually gathered together and talked. Back in the day we had no Wi-Fi and the only access to Internet was in the nearby village with a handful of computers. Now it is much more modern and Wi-fi is available throughout the centre – fear not, Instagrammers!
Although my initial draw had been because of the tiger, Meow, it soon became apparent he didn’t do much, and anyway he was looked after solely by the Thai staff, so he could be left alone as much as possible. What I did discover during my stay, was how fascinating monkeys are – mischievous and cunning! And I was fortunate to help out on the rescue of the first otter, which has always been one of my favourite creatures.
The volunteer programme is only open to those aged 18 and over, because it is quite hands-on, however, they also operate day-trips, so you can meet and learn about the animals and their stories.
Or if you’re a family and want to stay a little longer, they have lodging onsite, so it becomes like your own little private safari!
During my stay we were also fortunate to be able to spend a night camping in the nearby National Park. I think this is one of Thailand’s well-kept secrets. It is full of many beautiful national parks, where you can enjoy being immersed in nature listening to the sounds of birds all around you. If you are very lucky, you may even see a wild elephant, but you will want to be a very safe distance – social distancing applies very much with these huge, wild beasts!
Needless to say, perhaps, but anyway I should point out that there is no interaction with the animals, nor entertainment. The only animals you can touch are the cats, dogs, and the elephants. The centre exists for the animals first and foremost: to provide them with the best quality of life possible. Many of the animals are rescued from exploitative pasts, in animal shows, as pets, or used as photo props. They simply want a place to be at peace, and WFFT provides this.
Thailand is a beautiful country, rich with diverse wildlife, though due to poaching, logging and development, it is increasingly difficult to see animals in the wild. WFFT is the perfect place to get your animal fix and know that you are supporting a great cause.
They also provide education for schools and the local community, as well as tourists, who sometimes, unintentionally and unknowingly fuel the illegal wildlife trade, through activities such as having their photos taken with wild animals, whether innocently on the beach, or at other more official places where animals are used as photo props. If you love animals, please think twice before you interact with wildlife. Wild animals only appear tame when they have been subjected to physical abuse or drugs.
So if you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity with animals where you have lots to do and lots to learn, this is definitely one for the list. Or if you’re a family in Thailand and you want to take your kids to a responsible and ethical animal experience, they will love a day trip or overnight stay here! And if you’re just reading this and want to spread a little love, you can leave a donation that will be put to good use.
For more information about the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand
Donation page: https://www.wfft.org/donate/
Click here if you want to learn about more charities and volunteering opportunities!