If We Had Noah’s Ark…

In 2012 when I was still working with the Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) Mark Sharman, a well known wildlife cameraman, visited the sanctuary for BBC video shooting. I was only told it was part of BBC nature about 10 endangered species on earth. The filming process took three days in total and I wasn’t involved much during the process except for translating when needed.

Later in winter that year, my British friends suddenly posted a picture on my Facebook wall. It was a picture of their living room in the winter. It looked ordinary with sofa and table on a thick carpet, warm looking room which looked very inviting and in the middle of the picture was a television. On the TV screen I could see two people but could barely recognize them. When I read the caption, I realized one of them was me. My friend was so excited because I shared a screen with Sir David Attenborough on the episode called Attenborough’s Ark: Natural World Special. I was curious and with less effort found the video on YouTube. During the 58 minutes show I only appeared for briefly 1-2 seconds, but it’s enough to say “Hey I’m featured on an Attenborough’s episode!” Here’s a link to the episode.

As the name suggests, in the episode Sir David Attenborough is asked to pick ten species he would bring to his ark in order to save them from extinction. No surprise, one of the species he picks is Sumatran rhino. The 9 other species are: Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus), Venus flower basket (Euplectella aspergillum), black lion tamarin (Leontopithecus crysopygus), northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), olm (Proteus anguinus), Darwin’s frog (Rhinoderma rufum), marvelous spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis), Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), and Priam’s birdwing butterfly (Ornithoptera priamus).

To be honest I had never heard any of those species except pangolin (and Sumatran rhino of course) before watching the episode. They are all unique and interesting in different ways. One species that caught my interest is solenodon. When I first heard the suffix -odon I thought it was a kind of modern day dinosaur with huge scaly body and scary looking face. To my surprise it’s actually a tiny hairy shrew-alike critter with a cute face. What makes this species special is its ability to inject venom through the grooves in their teeth, which is common in reptiles but not in mammals, making them one of the few mammalian species with this ability.

Hispaniolan solenodon. Source: wikimedia.org

Hispaniolan solenodon. Source: wikimedia.org

If you had your own ark, what animals (or creatures) would you bring to save them from extinction?


How Does It Feel To Talk To Animals?

This is another common question that people ask regarding animal communication experience. One of my clients was surprised when I found out from his dog that he had stopped sending his dog for spine massage therapy. He looked at me in shocked and asked “How do you know? What did my dog say?” and I replied “She didn’t say anything but when I asked what could make her feel better, she shared this massage experience with me.” He had no clue about what I told him at that time and I had to explain in length to him about the animal communication techniques.

So to make people understand and to avoid similar confusion, I’d like to share my experience here. When I ‘talk’ to animals, do I hold conversation as when I talk to human? Do we exchange words in English? What do I experience?

Depends on the questions I ask, the animals will share their answers in different ways. They may share images, tastes, smells, physical and emotional feelings, and sounds. This experience may differ from person to person. Because I’m a visual person and good at visualizing, most information comes to me as images or videos. An animal communicator who is an empath will get different experience and information may come to them as physical and emotional feelings. On the contrary to popular belief, information as messages and long conversations are not common for me. There are a few possible factors for this and one of them could be the result of animals’ inability to speak human language.

Here are some examples the questions I ask and the common form of answers that I receive:

  • How do you feel? → physical or emotional feelings (happy, worried, painful knee, numb in right elbow, etc)
  • Where are you now? → images of what the animal probably see at the moment (near a lake, in front of big building, in a small alley next to a restaurant, etc)
  • What do you want me to tell your masters? → messages (“I feel uncomfortable right now but I’ll be fine in a few days”, “They shouldn’t worry about me, I’ll be okay when they are out of town”, “I love everyone in the family especially the young brother but sorry I’m getting old and my time almost come”, etc)
  • What can make you feel better? → physical feelings (feel of something warm on my back, feel of someone stroking my head) or taste (something tastes sweet and sour, something soft with mild meat smell) or images (a picture of certain fruit, a picture of soft cushion) or smell (lavender aroma, mint aroma).

Do the examples give you more understanding about communicating with animals? If you have experience communicating with animals or other sentient beings, either similar or different experience, please let us know and leave a comment below 🙂


The Story Behind Funny Bear Walking Like Human

In the video above you can watch a very funny Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) walking on his hind legs, just like how human walks. Everyone finds this very amusing, even me! I laughed when I first saw him walking like that and still smile whenever I see him walk like that in his big open enclosure.

Many volunteers and staff asked me why he walks like that. At first I could not answer their questions but after further observation here is my educated guess:

This bear was rescued from bear bile farm where he was kept in tiny cages and fed very little amount of food, only to keep him alive so they could extract his bile liquid. With this living condition it’s not surprising that he’s malnourished, which is shown by how short his legs are and the body size is disproportionately small for his head size. He is much smaller than an adult Asiatic black bear of his age should be. Click here to see how it’s like to live in bear bile farms.

Before his current place was turned into a rescue center, it functioned as a zoo where visitors could feed him and other bears by throwing food from outside the fence. With his smaller and malnourished body, it is easier for him to stand on his hind leg because his spine can support his light body weight. Standing up and waiting for food slowly became a habit which he does on a daily basis now. Click here to read what conversation I had with this bear regarding his condition now.

It was human who took him from the wild.
It was human who put him in bear bile farm and tortured him.
It was human who saved him from the farm.
It was human who fed him and ‘taught’ him to stand like that.
It is human greed which destroys our beautiful environment.


We Only Live Once and Elephant Riding is Once In A Lifetime Experience!

I’m going to Thailand next month and elephant riding is at the top of my to-do list! 😀


Source: madeinmoments.com

That’s a very common excitement coming from travelers who are going to Thailand, India, or other elephant countries in Asia. Who doesn’t like elephants? These giant but gentle animals are beautiful, smart, and human friendly. Taking selfies while riding on their back is in the check lists of many tourists.

As an animal lover, I did (past tense) not find any problems with elephant riding and yes, I did ride an elephant many years ago, even though only bare-back ride. After spending years working in the wildlife conservation field, the truth slowly shows its ugly face. Information was revealed to me during numerous rescue works, bits by bits like puzzle pieces waiting to be framed as a bigger picture. Poisoned elephant in the wild, treating skin infection, and pictures of happy faces riding elephants are somehow linked together. After understanding the facts, I realized that elephant riding is not encouraged anymore. Here are the reasons why:

1. Controlling a baby elephant is easier than adult elephants. Obtaining an elephant when they are babes can bring more advantages for the owner. They can use the baby’s cute face to beg food and as photo props because they are cute enough to be in your picture or in your birthday party. So how to get a baby elephant? Simple, just kill the mother and buy the baby elephant once it’s rescued. If the baby is born in captivity, they will be separated from their mothers as early as six months old. All baby elephants have to undergo a ritual called ‘phajaan‘ which literally means crush, i.e a process to crush the baby elephant’s soul to make them submissive to human. The ritual involves torturing a baby elephant by a group of people where the mahout then appears acting kindly to be a ‘hero’ for the baby. The baby elephant will then trust the mahout, believing he’s the only good person among the torturers. Here’s a video of the cruel process as published by One Green Planet. A little internet research of ‘phajaan’ will bring you one step closer to the truth.

2. Elephants are not domesticated animals and they will never be as tame as a dog or a horse. They still have their wild behavior which makes them harder to be controlled. The trick to conquer them is by using sharp metals. It has to be sharp enough to prick the elephant’s thick skin or else it won’t work. The elephants will then follow the mahout (elephant keeper)’s order because they are afraid to be hit by the sharp metal hook.

elephant bull hook

Picture was taken during Dao’s wound treatment at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), Phetchaburi, Thailand.

In the picture above an adult elephant named La Ong Dao was recently rescued from her owner in Pattaya where she was abused for tourism. Of course her owner said they took a good care of their beloved elephant and that she was healthy. People without zoology, biology or veterinary background will easily agree and ride her because the owner seemed very kind with La Ong Dao, but with a closer look, you can see one of several pus-filled holes on her forehead caused by elephant hook. You won’t find these infected holes easily because they are covered in mud and dirt.

3. Riding elephants without chairs can be tiring for the rider’s legs. That’s why in some places you can see wooden and metal seating frames are attached on top of their back. Very convenient! For the people, but not for the elephants. The sharp edges of these chairs rub the elephant’s skin and cause blister and skin abrasion while they walk long distance treks, which leads to skin infection.

“Then I assume bare-back riding is okay.”

The answer is still no. Naturally, elephants use mud and dirt to cover their backs from sunburn, similar to the function of sunscreen and clothing in human. Nobody wants to sit on a dirty elephant covered in mud, hence riding them leads to suffering from sunburn and skin problem.

4. No matter how expensive you are willing to pay for elephant ride, this amount is never enough and the elephant owners will follow their human nature to earn more and more money. How? By making their elephants work non stop carrying endless tourists on their backs during the day and beg for food during the night. Earlier this year two elephants dropped dead in Vietnam because they were overworked. Can you still say you spend your money to contribute for the local communities?

I can’t blame you for riding elephants only if you were not aware of the facts. But now you know, and if after knowing the facts you still continue on riding elephants and ignoring the ugly truth, then I apologize to say you are a selfish human being. Your ego is not worth the elephant’s suffering.

Ignorant Instagram user. Take a look at the underlined words.

Ignorant Instagram user. Take a look at the underlined words.

But we only live once and elephant riding is once in a lifetime experience!

You know what the funny thing is? The elephants are saying exactly the same thing. They also only live once and what seems to be a fun ‘once in a lifetime experience’ for you (and thousands of tourists out there) means a long life torture for them.

If you’re a real elephant lover, show your love by volunteering at real elephant rescue centers instead of riding them. Remember, a real rescue center does not let their visitors ride their elephants and they don’t chain their elephants. If you want the list of reputable elephant rescue centers in Thailand or South East Asia, simply contact me and I’m happy to share the information for free. I’m not paid by any institution to promote their places. I only recommend places where high animal welfare standard is practiced.

Now after understanding the life of an exploited elephant, do you still want to ride them? Why and why not? Share your thoughts in the comment below.


Freshly pressed! Freshly attacked!

So after two years working with peafowls finally today I got my FIRST peacock attack. Really? Can they attack? Of course! All animals have defense mechanism. With this particular peacock, he flew and kicked me in the air! Though I did not do anything to the peacock today, somehow he hated me and attacked me, not only once but twice!

Peacock attack.jpg

Even after the second attack he still made the third and fourth attempt to attack me. Maybe he hated my shirt color, maybe he knew I’m a vet, maybe he knew I would inject one of his friends, or maybe it was just breeding season aggressiveness.

As a bonus for reading this post, here’s a video of me, but without my face in it, checking and injecting a sick peacock. Enjoy!


Thailand’s Tiger Temple Twist

Most people know the infamous Thailand tiger temple in Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand. Thousands of tourists have visited this place where they can walk, play and pose for pictures with adult tigers and feed tiger cubs in their laps. A lot of visitors came to Thailand merely for this purpose.

Source: matadornetwork.com

Source: matadornetwork.com

The temple claims they were doing conservation by preserving the tiger species and save them from extinction. However, investigation shows only breeding program happens there without releasing or reintroduction program. This allegation is supported by a statement from Julianne Chisholm, foreign manager of the temple as she says “All of the tigers that were born here will stay here.” In conservation, it is the population of the tigers in the wild that needs to be increased, not in captivity. Most, if not all, of the tiger offspring born in temple are hybrid of Indochinese, Bengal, and Malayan tiger as quoted from their about page. Producing and raising hybrid offspring cannot be considered as a conservation act.

Tiger Temple History

The controversial temple claims to be the oldest surviving Buddhist school, a Theravada Buddhist forest temple in western Thailand and a sanctuary for numerous animals, including several tame tigers. The Tiger Temple was founded in 1994 as a forest monastery and sanctuary for numerous wild animals. In 1999 the temple received the first tiger cub; it had been found by villagers and died soon after. Several tiger cubs were later given to the temple, typically when the mothers had been killed by poachers. As of 2007, over 21 cubs had been born at the temple. As of late March 2011, the total number of tigers living at the temple has risen to almost 90.

Recent updates

According to WFFT all tigers from the temple had been confiscated in 2003. A lot of activists have raised their concerns about this place and finally in the first week of February 2015 Thai government officials raided the temple and found illegal hornbills, bears, and jackals kept within the temple complex which then mysteriously disappeared within the next day. On April 1st, 2015 the Thai government officials went to inspect the temple again regarding a report of three missing tigers. However they could not conduct the investigation because temple staffs refused to open the temple and unlock tiger cages.

The abbot of the temple, was supposed to meet DNP (Department of National Parks) Thailand on April 17th, 2015 but he fled to Frankfurt instead.

Credit @EdwinWiek on twitter.com

Credit @EdwinWiek on twitter.com

Head of DNP stated they would seize all 146 tigers from the temple by the end of April. The tigers will then go to different sanctuaries in in Ratchaburi, Khao Prathap Chang and Khao Son.

If you ask my feeling regarding the current situation, I have to say I’m happy that the Thai government finally do something for the tigers and other animals there, but I’m worried for the future lives of these tigers at the new sanctuaries. From veterinary point of view, moving a single tiger for a long trip journey is not going to be an easy job, leave alone moving nearly 150 tigers at once. From restraining, sedating, moving, monitoring, and watching the adaptation in new environment all takes real effort, not to mention long-term monitoring to ensure all standard and animal welfare is met at the new places. Nevertheless, I’m optimist things will get better and the animals will get better lives soon.


Fun Fact: Gharial

Woo hoo, it’s that time again this week for fun fact Friday! A fun fact a week keeps the foolishness away. Today’s topic is gharial (Gavialis gangeticus).

Source: animalsvariety.ru

Source: animalsvariety.ru

This species is listed as Critically Endangered (CR) on IUCN Red List and on Appendix I of CITES. The major threats to this species are habitat loss and degradation due to dam construction and irrigation, and fishing which removes their diet resource and can accidentally kills them. Now here are 5 fun facts you probably didn’t know about Gavialis gangeticus:

1. Gharial is the only extant species from the family Gavialidae. They are closely related to false gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii) which is a member of the family Crocodylidae.

2. Their name, gharial, derives from the word ‘ghara’ which means Indian pot, a shape that resembles the male gharial nose’s shape.

San Diego Zoo

Source: wikimedia.com

3. Among other crocodilian species, gharial is the biggest and the longest, measuring up to 6 m. They also have the narrowest snout which enables them to snatch fish underwater quickly.

4. Their weak legs are not able to support their body weight when they walk on land. This becomes a problem during dry season because unlike any other crocodilian species, gharial cannot walk far to find water.

5. Mother gharial does not transport their youngs in the mouth, but they stay together up to several months.

Source: animals.about.com

Source: animals.about.com

Enjoy reading the fun facts? Do you have a favorite animal or any other animals that you would like me to write the fun facts about? Let me know by commenting below. Spread the info and have a nice weekend! 🙂