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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?

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Welcoming A (Not So) Tiny Girl Into This World

“I hope it’s going to be tonight, or tomorrow night.”

That’s what I kept on telling people whenever they asked when Ratu, the pregnant Sumatran rhino, would give birth. Based on calculation from Ratu’s gestation period of Andatu (Ratu’s first calf), she was due last week but there was still no obvious sign of when she would deliver the calf, so all we could do was to wait and see, apart from ultrasound-ing her every few days.

We didn’t sleep well in the last week, worried that Ratu would give birth any night and I had spent some nights going to bed at 2 a.m and waking up at 6.30 a.m only to monitor her condition. However, last week I had a hunch that she would give birth later that night so I took a nap. It was also an educated guess because she showed some behavioral change. So I took a two-hour nap hoping to see a Sumatran rhino calf that night, but unfortunately the pregnant mother changed her mind and wanted to keep her baby inside for a little bit more. That night, I couldn’t sleep and stayed awake watching a rhino sleep soundly through the night. Tricky girl!

Days went by, she was getting more and more restless, and so were we! We were hoping every single day that the calf would be born that night. I communicated with her and did a couple of BodyTalk sessions, only to find out that she did not feel safe with bright lights surrounding her forested enclosure (there were a couple of floodlights installed). I tried to address this issue but some of the staff insisted that the lights were needed. A couple of BodyTalk sessions really calmed her down though, and addressed some of her stress resulted from human’s fear.

Then yesterday, I got another hunch. This one was merely a hunch and there was no educated guess. I successfully took a three-hour nap yesterday afternoon (a piece of cake if you haven’t had enough sleep in the last 6 days) and thought if Ratu was not going to give birth that night or the following morning, I’d spend another sleepless night watching her sleeping and wallowing in the mud – the last thing I wanted to do that night. Well, it was around midnight and Ratu seemed to be restless and sleeping less, so I thought that was a good sign … before she slept again and there was no sign of labor (again! She tricked me twice, that girl!). I waited and waited and waited for almost 3 hours, and she was still sleeping. I started feeling frustrated because of the floodlights, I did not know why but I guess that was a mirror of Ratu’s frustration that I felt. At 3 a.m I was getting sleepy and finally decided to give up, but before going to bed I uploaded a silly picture/status on my Instagram, showing how frustrated I am waiting for Ratu’s calf every night.

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Just after the picture was uploaded, Ratu decided to wake up and walked around her enclosure. I decided to wait a little bit more, but she went behind a big tree and stayed there. It was dark (probably the darkest site where she could avoid the floodlights) and I could not see a thing. I was about to give up again when I heard report that her water broke and there were signs of first stage labor! I was so excited and all the sleepiness suddenly evaporated into thin air!

No words can describe how precious the moments are. From the moment when the calf’s hind legs emerged (it was posterior longitudinal presentation, video here), followed by her small body and head covered in hair, to the moment she started to stand up, fell, stood up again, until finally made her first few steps in this world!! Nature is incredibly amazing, especially when we see an animal birth, they just knew what to do from the very second they are born into this world, without being told or taught by anyone of what they should do. They just knew instinctively. Ratu did not touch her calf for the first couple of hours, and I guessed it was to encourage the calf to stand up and walk towards her to suckle. If she had approached the calf, the calf would not have tried to stand up and walk while it was vital for the calf to use her muscles immediately.

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Within less than an hour, the calf really did her best at standing up on her four feet for the first time. It took her less than an an hour and a half to start taking small baby steps, and within 3 hours after birth she had already started suckling. It was funny to see her sniffing Ratu’s belly randomly searching for the teats, not sure where to locate them.

Kudos to the new vet team at Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary! Read more about the birth on IRF’s official press release here.

adinda suckle

So adorable.

So amazing.

So priceless.

Thank you Mother Earth. I hope we, the minority of humans, can continue to preserve the nature while the majority of us are destroying it, even though we are all guilty for that.

PS. I haven’t slept all night as I’m typing this post. Forgive me for a boring-and-not-so-lively story and awful grammar, but I do hope you enjoy the story 🙂

rhino calf wefie copy

The first wefie! I don’t want to disturb the 3 hours old calf so in this case a CCTV wefie works fine as well 🙂

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Feels Like Home

Around 6 a.m this morning I opened my eyes, saw sun rays penetrated my room through a safari patterned curtain covering my windows, heard the trickling sound of gentle rain, checked my watch, then grabbed my blanket and went back to sleep. I’m not a morning person (unless if morning person means they sleep in the morning, ha!) so waking up before 8 a.m is not easy for me, and the rain did not make it any easier. Half an hour later my alarm rang, so I forced myself to wake up after pressing the snooze button a couple of times.

morning sun

I took a deep breath, took a large amount of fresh air with the smell of the jungle to fill my lungs. Birds had started chirping since sunrise, with cicadas joining their jungle orchestra them as well. Every now and then I heard rustling leaves as the long tailed and pig tailed macaques jumped from branch to branch, ready to start their day. And what were those animals calling each other so loudly? They were really loud, with both ululating and bitonal screams. Oh, right, of course the siamang! I almost forgot that I’m back in the Sumatran wilderness. How I missed the jungle! But my day is not complete yet without seeing my hairy kids.

flying siamang

Flying (swinging) siamang in action

I went to see the hairy rhinos accompanied by SRS’ current veterinarian, Dr. Made Fera. We started with Harapan, the newest resident at Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary who was born in Cincinnati Zoo in April 2007 and brought back to Indonesia in November 2015. I almost fell in love instantly with him! Weighed about 780 kg (1,720 pounds), Harapan showed gentle gestures toward his keepers though sometimes he tried to chase them too. For a wildlife that was born and raised in captivity, he was doing quite well in his new home. It was Harapan’s birthday too so we helped him celebrate by making a simple ‘cake’ made of his favorite fruits and vegetables.

 

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I know I know, the cake doesn’t have its shape anymore, but at least Harapan enjoys it.

Next, we met Andatu in his stall. Andatu, my first ‘grandson’ from his mother Ratu and his father Andalas, was born in June 2012 when I was still working at SRS as a full time vet. He weighed only 25 kg (55 pounds) when he was born, but look at him now! I barely recognized him, especially now that he has two rhino horns instead of a flat nose that he had when he came into this world. More update about Andatu is coming soon.

andatu a few days old

The few days old Andatu (June 2012)

andatu adult copy

The few years old Andatu (April 2016)

After Andatu, we went to greet Andalas. Andalas is Andatu’s father who was born in Cincinnati Zoo in September 2001 and brought back to Indonesia in 2007. He was the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity. His birth sparked a big hope to breed the critically endangered species in captivity to eventually prevent them from extinction. Nothing has changed much since I saw him last. He’s still a big boy who enjoys his time in the stall, spending as much time with his keeper as possible. Such a cute boy, but hey, he’ll be a father of two real soon!

Inside Andalas’ paddock, believe or not, out of millions of trees in Way Kambas National Park, I have a favorite tree. There’s this one particular tree that strongly caught my attention. I sometimes do grounding under this tree, but recently there has been an insect nest growing at the nest so I did not dare to go closer this time.

Then, we moved to see Rosa, the most beautiful Sumatran rhino I’ve ever seen and everyone agrees. If you try to find wild Sumatran rhino pictures online, most likely you’ll end up with Rosa’s pictures (in addition to Ratu’s and Andatu’s). She’s like the supermodel in Sumatran rhino world, but a few years ago her beauty was quickly defeated by the cuteness of a newborn star – Andatu.

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Rosa, the supermodel, enjoying her fruit feast

Then we visited Bina in her stall. I’m not going to lie, she’s my favorite rhino so far. She has a reputation of being shy and unpredictable but she captured my heart with her captivating eyes nevertheless. She was one of the first rhinos that were captured in the late 1980s to early 1990s and she’s the only survivor till today. That makes her the oldest Sumatran rhino in captivity, aged about 29-30 years old. I don’t know why, but I feel very connected to her. I feel she always has a kind of ancient wisdom to share with us humans.

We were hoping to see Ratu the pregnant mother, but that morning she decided not to say hi to me in the stall. Maybe we’ll meet tomorrow to check her and her baby conditions. If you’d like to see how she’s doing so far you can read this post here and follow IRF’s blog for future updates.

Which rhino would you like to meet most? Did you know you also can adopt them as your hairy kids? Check their pictures and individual profiles here.

 

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Expecting My Second Grandchild in The Jungle

I left that place almost three years ago. I cried in the car as my ex-field manager drove me to the local airport. One son, three daughters, and a grandson were left behind. No, I’m not talking about furry kids here, not scaly ones, not even feathery ones. I’m talking about hairy kids. I took care four hairy kids since early 2012 when I was working at Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. Yep, they are Sumatran rhinos, or also known as hairy rhinos.

hairy rhino hair

In June 2012, one of my kids, Ratu, gave birth to Andatu, the first Sumatran rhino calf born in Asia in the last 124 years. He was an instant celebrity and gained thousands of fans worldwide, but he really deserved it. He was the cutest Sumatran rhino calf ever recorded! My heart melted almost immediately when I saw him standing up and taking the first tiny step in life. Come on, look at his cute face below and tell me if you think he’s not cute.

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Last year, we’ve heard that Ratu was expecting the second calf, and that Andatu is going to be a big brother! Of course everyone is happy with the news. I could only pray that the second calf delivery will be as smooth as the first one. I could not be there to watch it, even though I hoped to see the baby after it was born. Last Monday, the field manager called me and asked for my help with the second birth. Can you believe it? My heart almost jumped from joy and excitement! I feel very honored to be given the chance to assist with the birth of my second grandchild 😀

It was a sudden notice, so I only had a day to pack and prepare before leaving early morning the next day. Seven hours car drive and three hours ferry ride it was, but I was so excited to see all my hairy kids again! And oh, Andatu’s uncle, Harapan, was brought back to Sumatra from United States in November last year, so I’ll have the chance to meet him too in this trip. My mind was filled with curiosity, wondering how his personality was, if he was adapting well in the jungle after spending years of living in Cincinnati Zoo, if he shared similar characteristics with Andalas, and so on.

After the exhausting ten-hour journey finally I was there again, back to where my kids are, but it was already late at night when I arrived. Only darkness and cricket chirps greeted me, followed by the same staff who are still taking care of the rhinos. Now it’s time to sleep, and let’s explore the jungle once again tomorrow.

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What Does The Bear Say?

Have you ever wondered what the bear in the famous “Funny bear walking like human” video say? To answer some questions from curious readers about my animal communication skill, here’s a short conversation that the bear and I had. Whether it’s an imaginary or a real conversation, only the bear and I know 🙂

Me: Isn’t it hard to balance yourself and walk on hind legs?
Bear: No, I’m comfortable doing it. It’s not difficult at all.
M: Why do you walk like that?
B: I feel more comfortable walking like this. It’s not wrong to walk like this, is it?
M: What do you mean ‘more comfortable’? Isn’t it easier for you to walk on four legs?
B: Look at my legs, they are very short! What can I see by standing on those short legs? I need better vision of my surrounding.
M: But you know what your enclosure look like. Why do you still need better vision?
B: So I know when food is approaching.
M: Don’t you get enough food already?
B: It’s never enough.
M: Then what can make you feel better?
B: Water. It’s very hot recently.
M: I mean what kind of food can make you feel better or less hungry?
B: Banana.

Do you have questions you want to ask the bear? Leave a comment below or contact us. I’ll convey your questions to the bear and publish the answers in the next few days.

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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! 😀

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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.

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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!

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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!