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Volunteer experience #2: Naucrates Sea Turtle Conservation Project

Naucrates is an NGO based in Italy with a project site in Thailand, focusing in turtle conservation since 1996. Their Thailand project is based in an island called Koh Phra Thong (Phra Thong Island) located about 200 km north of Phuket, Thailand. They monitor the beaches in Koh Phra Thong and neighboring islands to find and protect turtle nests, as well as observing wild turtle behavior. When necessary, they also relocate turtle nests to increase the number of hatchlings.

naucrates turtle painting.jpg

Image source: Naucrates

How to get there:
Take a bus to Kuraburi (10 hours from Bangkok, 3 hours from Phuket). Exit the bus station, turn right, find Boon Piya Resort on your right, just about 100-200 meter from the bus station. In front of the resort entrance there’s a small office for Boon Piya travel service where you can arrange taxi and boat to go to Koh Phra Thong. You’ll need a taxi to go to the pier (70 baht/$2 for motorbike taxi, or 150 baht/$4.30 for a car taxi), then a boat to the island (150 baht/$4.30). The boat usually departs around 10-11 a.m but there is no fixed schedule so it is advised to book a day in advance to make sure the boat waits for you. The boat ride takes about one hour and along the way some very lucky people with eagle eyes might spot endangered dugongs.

If you arrive in the afternoon, spend a night at one of the few accommodations in town. Boon Piya Resort and Thararin Resort are within walking distance from the bus station, both cost around 200-500 baht/$6-$13 per night. I stayed at Thararin last time because Boon Piya was full. It is located just 50 meter farther than Boon Piya from the bus station. I found the Thararin’s owner was very friendly. She invited me for lunch and dinner together with her family, then she took me to a watermelon festival in town and later that day to the night market.

In Kuraburi you can find some ATMs, 7-11, and occasional night market where you can buy last minute ’emergency’ stuff for the island, such as flip flops, sarong, tshirt/shorts/long pants, and rechargeable torchlight as low as $3!

1kuraburi pier

The pier at Kuraburi. Get a taxi/motorbike taxi to get here.

2boat ride

The boat ride.

3tapayoi pier

Tapayoi village, one of the villages in Koh Phra Thong. This was where I landed (not in the water, don’t worry!)

 

The accommodation:

There are two accommodation sites. The first one is P Nok’s resort where you get a wooden bungalow shared for 2 people with attached bathroom. There is an upstair common area where you can relax, read books, listen to music, or talk to Nok the owner about his life in the island and how lucky he was when the 2004 tsunami happened. It is about 10-15 minutes walk away from the beach. So you can have afternoon swim and watch the sun set after working.

The second site is homestay at Lion’s Village. You’ll get your own room upstairs with a shared bathroom downstairs. The people at the village doesn’t speak English but they are very nice to hang out with and you’ll be surprised that somehow you just understand each other without speaking a common language.

The activities:

  • Early morning walk and walk and walk, with countless beautiful sunrise during your stay and sometimes accompanied by these cute energetic doggies.
    dog dog

    A dog whose name is Dog. She’s probably one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met ❤

    snowy dog

    Snowy, an ultimate crab chaser. She’s never tired!

    When you find turtle tracks and nests you have to record the details. If you have to do night monitoring, don’t miss the starry sky and the milky way.

    DCIM100GOPROG0024508.

  • If you find a nest in a less ideal location, you’ll have to relocate the nest to a better site. We did a relocation when I was volunteering there. You can read my full story here about nest relocation as published by Naucrates blog.
  • Turtle talk. Don’t miss this one! Well, you can’t miss it anyways. It’s a one-hour presentation by Naucrates Field Leader, explaining about turtles: a few different species, the difference of each species, the behavior of wild turtle, the nest and hatching statistics found in Koh Phra Thong and neighboring islands since Naucrates has been there.
  • Wild turtle behavior observation. You’ll have to do a mini 5-minute hiking to reach the top of a hill and record wild turtle behavior when you see them.
  • In the afternoon you can do kayaking and snorkeling to learn more about the local marine life, guided by a Naucrates staff or volunteer.
  • All time favorite activity: napping on a hammock on a sunny beach.hammock.jpg
  • About once a week the staff and volunteers go to neighboring islands – Koh Ra and Koh Kho Khao, to monitor the beach and look for turtle track/nest.
  • Beach cleaning once in a while, though I did not experience it during my stay.
  • When I was there we did some work for the museum at Lions’ Village. I was lucky enough to attend the opening day of the museum too. Some students from Tapayoi came together with their teachers. Naucrates also educate the locals about the importance of conservation, both mangrove conservation and turtle conservation.naucrates drawing.jpg

The food:

Mostly Thai food, I mean very yummy homemade Thai food (think of thick curries, soups, stir-fried veggies, grilled fresh fish, marinated chickens, with fried banana fritters or fresh tropical fruits as desserts), with several options for western breakfast (their fruit muesli yogurt and banana pancake were good!), available option for vegetarian and vegan (though ‘meat’ is considered only beef, pork, chicken, and fish. Fishballs, crab sticks, and other processed food are considered ‘vegetarian’). For vegans, watch out for fish sauce and shrimp paste used as seasonings in the dishes.

Occasionally you will experience yummy Italian pasta at Horizon Eco Resort. Horizon is one of Naucrates’ supporters. This is also where you will spend a lot of time (I spent mine in one of their hammocks), and also our meeting point in many occasion. The most important thing is they have free wifi for volunteers!

Not to miss: fresh young coconut sold for $1 at Horizon Eco Resort, and Pa Nee’s coconut ball, i.e traditional snack made of sticky rice flour with sweet peanut and brown sugar filling, covered in shredded coconut. Yum!!

Recommended duration: 2-4 weeks.

Recommended time to visit:

End of January to March. Based on this year’s season, January was when the turtles first lay their eggs, and starting in late February you can start to see some hatchlings!

turtle hatchling naucrates

Image source: Naucrates

Tips for future volunteers:

  • Book directly from Naucrates website as it is much cheaper (as low as €205/$235 per week for long term volunteers) than booking through a volunteering agency. Link here.
  • Be physically fit to walk long distance (about 10 km every day, 4-6 days a week). Bring very comfortable shoes to walk on soft sand, such as sneakers or coral boots, or simply walk barefoot if you’re comfortable with it (some staff and volunteers including me prefer to walk barefoot).
  • The observation site is located on top of a small hill, so you have to hike a little. It was only a 5-10 minute walk to the top, and the staff and I did it in flip flops, but some volunteers prefer sneakers for safety.
  • Bear in mind that electricity is limited, and western comfort is very limited. Bring stuff that can keep you and other volunteers occupied that do not need electricity.

What to bring:

  • Sarong, for sun protection instead of sunblock. Sunblock is harmful for the corals and by avoiding sunblock we help to reduce plastic bottle trash. Moreover, if you stay for long term, it’s more practical to bring a piece of sarong instead of bottles of sunblock, right?
  • Wetsuit, (again) for sun protection instead of sunblock. Even waterproof sunblock formula can be easily washed away when you swim and it need constant re-applying. Wetsuit can protect you longer and (again) more practical to pack. If you don’t have a wetsuit and don’t want to buy one, consider of bringing a t-shirt for swimming instead.
  • Hat and sunglasses. Read above, I’m not going to repeat again what they are for.
  • Mosquito repellent (consider natural ingredients such as citronella or lavender or geranium). Mosquito coil and lighter can be bought in the island.
  • Head light. This one is a must. You will start your day just before sunrise and have to walk in the dark. Consider bringing a rechargeable light instead of using batteries, not only because battery is difficult to find in the island, but also because it contains harmful chemicals for the environment.
  • Snacks and comfort food. Limited choice of snack and food is sold, so for snackers my suggestion is pack your favorite yumyum.
  • Speaker for music lovers.
  • Books. You’ll have free time in the morning or afternoon.
  • Card, board games, or other activities that doesn’t need electricity.
  • Small, pocket size and low watt clip fan, just in case the room in Lion’s Village is too hot for you during the night.
  • An open mind and a good sense of humor. This one applies to any place you visit:)

 

Coming up next: volunteering at Phangan Animal Care for Stray (PACS). Stay tuned!

Read more about my tips on volunteering while traveling here.

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Volunteer experience #1: Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, Chiang Mai

Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation focuses on rescuing stray dogs and cats, and spaying/neutering any dogs and cats they can find, including ones in remote villages where the villagers cannot afford vet bills. It is also the only cat shelter in Chiang Mai and maybe even the only one in Northern Thailand. They adopt dumped and sick pets, and up to this date they have sheltered over 600 dogs and 100 cats. It is located inside a housing complex about 40 km north of Chiang Mai downtown, far from everywhere but everything was provided in the house.

The owner is friendly and would take us for meals, grocery shopping, or just hang out in a coffee shop on our day off. Meals and accommodation are provided in exchange of donation. Meals are mostly local food (white rice or sticky rice, with a few dishes for sharing) but you can also buy groceries and store them in the provided fridge.

santisook cat shelter

The cat shelter, big and clean. The cats seem happy, don’t they? 🙂

How to get there: Flight to Chiang Mai, then from the airport it’s still another 1 hour car ride. I was already in Chiang Mai so it was easier to go to their place. You can take a yellow taxi/song thaew from the city, but if you’re going straight from the airport it’s better to arrange your own transport, such as airport taxi or charter a red taxi/song thaew. It is also possible to ask the foundation to pick you up. They may be or may not be able to pick you up depending on their schedule.

The accommodation: upstair facilities for volunteer in a modern house, next to their cat shelter. Nice room with attached bathroom, aircon, and ceiling fan. There’s a communal area with shared fridge, hot water kettle, TV, DVD player, and some other basic stuff. Very nice accommodation.

The food: Meals are provided downstairs, most of them are local Thai food. You will sit on the floor and share the dishes with their staff. If you cannot eat local food, western food can be arranged too but you will have to pay for it, or stock up on bread and instant noodles. For vegetarians, it’s possible to ask for vegetable dishes only so they can prepare it. It’s best to say that you want to eat only vegetables instead of saying “no meat”, because sometimes they still put fish or seafood as they are not considered as ‘meat’. For vegans it’s a bit more difficult because they still don’t understand the vegan concept and still use fish sauce, shrimp paste, oyster sauce, etc in the dishes.

The medical facilities: Let’s be honest here. The facilities were VERY basic. You’ll operate on a wooden table, outdoor, with non sterile examination gloves, with no drip because I.V cathether and I.V fluid were considered too expensive. If you’re lucky someone can help you with I.V injection for top up dose, but don’t expect too much. There was nothing sterile, all tools were sterilized by alcohol and iodine solution. I donated a sterilizer but it arrived after my volunteer period ended, so I don’t know if they use it or not. If you volunteer or know someone who volunteers there, it would be nice to have some updates about it.

santisook medical

This was the surgery site at one of their dog shelters. That table was where I spayed and neutered the bitches and dogs.

The activities: treat the resident cats and dogs, perform health checks when necessary, treat rescued/dumped pet that they often get, spay/neuter dogs and cats in villages – sometimes in a nearby village and sometimes in another shelter which was 10 hour car ride away from them! They are very dedicated in controlling the stray dogs/cats population and if you have the same mission, this is the right place for you to volunteer.

What I enjoyed: when there is no surgeries or treatment, you’ll be taken to the countryside to see the local life, enjoy the mountain view, soak in a hot spring, see the Chiang Mai city, try Thai tea and Thai coffee, visit local temples, shop in local markets, and most importantly just relax. The founder will make sure that you are comfortable and are enjoying your stay.

What I dislike:

  1. You’ll probably be the only person with medical knowledge (unless there’s another volunteering vet) so there’s nobody to back up your opinion if they say you mess up, even though their reasons do not make sense scientifically. I heard them complaining about a cat died weeks before I arrived, blaming the vet and assuming that the cat died of brain damage 5 days after spay because the vet’s hands were not sterile when she spayed the cat.
  2. No gratitude and appreciation of what you do. I speak Thai and understood the conversations they had, even when they were talking about me and other volunteers. What they said in English in front of you and what they said in Thai were completely different. Don’t trust their sweet words. I also understood when the villagers said “Thank you very much, this is for the vet” while handing over some fresh produce from their backyard or other souvenirs, but everything disappeared so I and other volunteers never received anything.
  3. Okay this one is a bit personal. Before leaving the shelter, I donated a new sterilizer, an imported one as it was difficult to find a portable sterilizer in Thailand. It arrived after I left, unfortunately they forgot to tell me they had received the sterilizer, then they forgot to take pictures, and then they forgot to send the pictures to me. It took them over a month to send a single picture as you can see below. Well, I hope they don’t forget that they have a sterilizer now and hopefully they will remember to use it for future surgeries.santisook gratitude1
santisook gratitude.png

What they promised vs what they actually did. They promised a thank you letter in the picture, but it seemed like they can’t be bothered typing proper messages after receiving their gift.

Recommended length of stay: 1-3 weeks.

Tips for future volunteers:

  • Bring your own basic medical tools and references such as stethoscope and medical books.
  • It’s recommended to donate sterile gloves, swabs, drapes, I.V catheters, I.V fluids and giving sets if you have extra to spare.
  • Don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent!
  • Come with an open mind and a good sense of humor. This one applies to any place you visit 🙂

 

Up next: Volunteering with Naucrates Turtle Conservation Project in Koh Phra Thong, Thailand.

Read more about my experience in volunteering while traveling here.

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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.