Career Change

So I’ve been taking care of wildlife for over 4 years and recently I decided to become a small animal practitioner. Why? Well, here is the story….

A trip to Jakarta earlier this year let me meet an inspiring vet who has been practicing as an exotic pet vet for a few years. We both share a strong passion for wildlife and conservation. She then advised me to start practicing as an exotic pet vet too and help illegal wildlife trade victims. If you know how much I am into wildlife conservation, you’d also know that I would be against this idea. Well, I did at first because I believed doing this would encourage exotic pet lovers out there to keep more wildlife at their homes, thus would create more demands for wildlife trade, and there would be more illegal wildlife trade victims. So I shouted out and explained my opinions. She understood of course, as it was her first thought as well, but what she said next really opened my eyes and changed my point of view. She asked me a few questions:

  • Do they, exotic pet owners, consider if there are any exotic pet vets practicing in their town before buying exotic pets? No.
  • Do they stop buying wildlife just because there isn’t any exotic pet vet available in their town? No. Almost everyone thinks a vet is capable of treating all kind of animals.
  • So what made them buy exotic pets? 1 hobby, 2 prestige. The availability of an exotic pet vet is not in their reasons to keep wildlife as pets.

The fact is, these exotic pet owners don’t really care about the availability of exotic pet vets nearby. The existence of exotic pet vet doesn’t encourage pet owners to buy more wildlife. Then what happens when the exotic pets fall sick? Here is a possible scenario:

1. They will bring the exotic pet to a nearby vet, assuming every vet knows everything about all kinds of animals: furry pets, feathery pets, scaly pets, even hairy rhinos. Unfortunately this is not true, since most clinics are familiar with only dogs and cat. Then the vet will say sorry I don’t know, so the pet owners would start complaining and the exotic pet is left untreated nevertheless. Then….

2. They will bring their pets to a number other vets, hoping a vet would know how to treat it before giving up because apparently no vet knows how to treat a sick Cuora galbinifrons (a sick what??),

3. Once they are home with only a little bit of hope left, they will (of course) do what people nowadays call “research” on the internet search engine and read random articles written by a few different people and playing with medicine to see which treatment works.

4. If the animals live, they will boast they do better than vets. If the animals don’t live, they may buy a new one from black market.

So, I decided to make a career change because in my opinion, by becoming an exotic pet vet I can educate the right targets, which is exotic pet owners who create demand for wildlife trade. In addition I can help them to improve their pet life and prevent the pet from dying (which will lead to buying more wildlife to replace the dead pet). By educating them to stop buying wildlife, I’m hoping they’ll educate other owners in the community as well. Many of exotic pet owners aren’t aware of the damage they cause by keeping an exotic pet. If I can prevent them from buying new animals, we can lessen the demand of wildlife in black market and break the illegal wildlife trade cycle.

Exotic pet vs electronics

Another thing that I realized recently is the tendency of buying some particular electronic brands based on the availability of official service center in their countries/cities/towns.

This brand is cheaper and ships faster. Yes, but there’s no service center in our town. What if it breaks or needs servicing?

Yes that’s what people consider before buying electronic goods, but do exotic pet owners consider if there’s a vet who can handle their exotic pets before they buy it (I mean before the mom is killed and the baby is taken and sold in black market)? No, because everyone thinks each and every vet should be capable of treating any kind of animals, from cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, turtles, horses, cattle, bears, and even elephants. If you think all vets can treat any kind of animals, try bringing a snake into vet clinics and see how many of them even dare to open the door and check the snake.

So now that I’ve opined my thought, could you see my perspective? What do you think about becoming a practicing exotic pet vet?


Baby Wildlife is So Cute So I Keep One As A Pet

What do you think when you read the title? If you think the title doesn’t make sense, then this article is probably not for you. But if you think the title suits you, then this article is definitely for you and you should read it till the end.

If you travel to Asia, chance is you’ll see cute baby animals, dressed in cute clothing and mostly available as photo props. If you show big interest and say “Cuteness overload! I wanna buy one! I wanna keep one at home!”, sometimes they can be sold as a pet to you instantly. Nobody denies that baby animals are so cute and adorable. They are  tiny, fluffy and super cute. Once you cuddle them, you fall in love with them and decide to keep one as a pet. If you love animals of course you want to do your best for them. There’s no way you want to hurt those cute baby animals, correct? Now the question is, what’s the best thing you can do for the babies? So here are a few options of what you can do to show your love and care for captured baby animals:

1. Pose for pictures with them. Have you ever wondered how the baby animals ended up as a photo prop? Most babies are obtained from the wild, and the easiest way to catch a baby animal is to kill its mother. I won’t give lengthy explanation about this topic here but you can read more about animals and photo props here. Think twice before you pose pictures with baby animals. Is the suffering in their lives worth for your social media picture?

Beyonce Knowles posing with baby chimp and tiger cub. Not a good role model.

Beyonce Knowles, not a good role model in this case.

2. Keep them as pet. So you fall in love with them and decided to keep one as a pet. Suddenly they are sick, maybe because their diet is not as good and not as natural as what they eat in the wild. Because you love them, of course you take them to the vet. No matter how expensive the bills will be, you are willing to save your beloved baby. Now what happens next at the vet? Your vet looks confused because they haven’t seen this animal before. They are not sure what to do with your baby. Oh, wait… They know someone who can help and ask you to wait for a minute. As a wildlife vet I have numerous experience of being called by other vet colleagues saying they have this unusual patient that looks like a wild cat, or like a kind of monkey, or a kind of bird, or even a kind of alien. Here’s the real situation: Some vets can’t even identify the animal species, leave alone diagnosing what common diseases the animals could possibly have. This inability restricts them from giving the right treatment, in addition to they don’t know what drugs can or cannot be used in those exotic animals. Worse, some even cannot handle the patient for a thorough exam because the animals are aggressive, which is normal because they are wildlife and are not meant to be tamed. I don’t blame the vets for not being able to check the patient because most vet schools don’t teach about wildlife subjects in details. I blame the owner for keeping illegal wildlife.

3. Cuddle them every day. They are so cute! You want to spend every possible second with them. You carry them everywhere, you show your best friends and they envy you, you eat with them, you sleep with them. It’s easy to control baby animals, but days after days, weeks after weeks, it does not take long to show their true wild behavior. What used to be cuddly baby turns to be a feisty kinkajou, a bity loris and a scratchy leopard cat. You can’t cuddle them anymore. So what happens next? Remove their claws and their teeth even though it means you’re hurting them? Wait a minute, you don’t want to hurt them, do you? But at the same time you can’t cuddle and play with aggressive animals too. Well, then the message is clear. Don’t buy exotic pets from the very beginning.

Paris Hilton bitten by her kinkajou. She had to receive tetanus jab because of the bite.

Paris Hilton bitten by her kinkajou. She had to receive tetanus jab because of the bite.

Further read: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/ridiculous-reasons-people-give-for-keeping-exotic-animals-as-pets


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.


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.


The Struggle to Save a Little Baby Monkey

The full story of Hug’s rescue as told by Claudia Lifton, a kind lady who rescued him:

“In order to renew my Thai visa, I had to go to Laos before heading back to the GVI Elephant Reintroduction Project. I have always wanted to explore more of South East Asia, so I took advantage of this rare opportunity and asked for one more week off of project to see this beautiful country. What was supposed to be a simple, uneventful visa run to Laos turned into one of the oddest, and most life changing experiences. The cheapest, and (in my opinion) the best way to travel from Thailand to Laos is by boat. I fell in love with this stunning country within the first five minutes of my three day boat ride to Luang Prabang. I could never grow tired of sitting on that boat, watching the endless scenery of foggy tipped mountains and lush, exotic jungles pass by.

I have never before seen such a large mass of land so unexploited by man. It was encouraging to see small huts built into nature without destroying the scenery around them. I was impressed by the Laos people before I even met them.

Turns out my instincts were right. As soon as we arrived at our first overnight stop in the charming village of Pak Beng we were greeted by the kindest people, one of which was a young man named Bounma agreed to show me around his village. He took me to a beautiful waterfall and invited me to his home for dinner with his lovely family. The next morning the boat left for our final destination – the town of Luang Prabang, famed for its natural and man-made beauty. In just a day and a half I visited several striking Buddhist temples, reveled at the largest waterfall I have ever seen, hiked through an enchanted forest and watched an incredible sunset over the mountains from a small fisherman’s boat. I could have stayed in Luang Prabang forever, and was planning on staying for several more days before heading to Vientiane to apply for my visa, but my time was cut short by a very special little monkey. While on my way back to my hostel from Bounma’s home, I saw a three month old macaque in a small cage outside of a mechanic shop. I stopped to speak with the family that owned him and asked where they had gotten the monkey from.

They said they bought him from an illegal poacher who had killed his mother in the wild to sell the babies as pets and tourist attractions.

After much convincing, they finally agreed to let me take him for the same price they had paid for him. After much research, many phone calls and emails, and a huge stroke of luck, I finally got in touch with SayLin from ACRES Wildlife Sanctuary (now Laos Wildlife Rescue Center). I was excited to have found such a wonderful new home for the macaque, but, when I arrived back in Pak Beng from Luang Prabang, the family informed me that they had changed their minds and refused to let me take the monkey. After several hours of protest (and tears), they finally agreed to let me take the 3 month old baby in exchange for my camera. So, two nine hour boat rides, one eight hour bus ride, several sleepless nights, over two-hundred dollars, a lost (traded) camera, a run in with the Laos police and one CRAZY, unexpected adventure later, Nahuglai (which means forever loved in Laos), is finally at his forever home in Laos Wildlife Rescue Center. After a few days of veterinary care, he will be introduced to his new family of macaques with whom he will live out the rest of his life – rather than in a small cage at a mechanic shop. I am so grateful to have found such an amazing home for little Hug, and to have met the inspiring people that have dedicated their lives to the animals of Laos. SayLin is truly an inspiration, and I was honored to learn from his endless knowledge about the problems facing South East Asia’s animals. He works constantly to ensure that the animals at the sanctuary are well taken care of, and to fight against animal exploitation throughout all of South East Asia. Meeting SayLin and the rest of the dedicated people at Laos Wildlife Rescue Center, and seeing Hug go to such an amazing home was worth all of the trouble to bring him there. My trip to Laos turned into so much more than a simple visa run.

Like most things in my life, I have animals to thank for that.

Round the World Claudia Wednesday, July 10, 2013 – 09:02″

Find out how Hug is doing today with his new life at the rescue center here.

Hug the baby monkey and Claudia Lifton, his rescuer

Little Hug and Claudia