Many tourists who flock to Thailand want to be able to bring back with them a tale of an “extraordinary” adventure. Many are attracted to the idea of riding elephants or having their photographs taken with tigers.
Although most see these activities as harmless, heart-warming or as a way to get closer to those exotic animals, one could not be more wrong. The practice of breaking elephants so that they become tame enough for people to sit on their backs is very cruel. It includes beating and starving the animals to break their spirit so that they would become “tame” enough. As for tigers, drugs are often used to sedate the animals so that they become drowsy and easy to manage for photographic purposes.
Luckily, some have recognised this dark side of the tourism industry. Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) is one of the places where visitors will get the chance to observe and interact with some wild animals, but with a different approach.
Wildlife Friends Foundation Centre
At first glance, WFFT might look like a zoo but it is in fact a rescue and rehabilitation centre, with the aim of releasing the animals back to the wild. Some residents are injured wildlife that need medical attention while others are rescued from homes, temples and other places where they were kept as pets or used for performances. The animals range from elephants and birds to a crocodile and several monkey species.
The centre has a dining area, a vet clinic and a caged area for animals that require more attention. Across the road, there are large enclosures for the wild animals that are close to being released to the wild. Visitors will be taken there during the second part of their trip. Gibbons, bears and elephants live in the separate big enclosures.
Once there, a friendly staff member will show you around the site and their many inhabitants. You will learn about the animals’ different personalities and their stories. Cola, a sun bear that was kept at a temple, was constantly fed the fizzy drinks that all of its teeth are ruined. Boonmee, a retired elephant who spent many years in the logging and tourist industry, has had her back ruined from years of work. She is now retired and being cared for permanently at the centre.
After visiting all the animals, you will be provided with a buffet lunch of delicious Thai cuisine. Once everyone is refreshed, visitors are in for a treat. You will be able to join an elephant on its daily walk through the woods. You will each take turn to feed it with various kinds of fruits to encourage the elephant to follow you along the half an hour walk. Once you are back at the centre, you will have the chance to give the elephant a shower.
After the shower, it is time to visit the larger enclosures. Sitting on the back of a pick-up truck, you will be driven next to the spacious enclosures. The enclosures are well kept with lush greenery. Some gibbons, Asian black bears and a number of elephants reside in these enclosures. This is where animals with higher chances of surviving in the wild are being kept. With good progress, they could see the possibility of being released.
WFFT provides pick-up services for tourists staying in Hua Hin or nearby Cha-am. The price is 51 USD (1,800 THB) per person, inclusive of return transfers. Lunch is included in the price. However, if you have your own transport, you can contact the rescue centre for discounts. The whole tour (including pick-up time) will last from 9.30-10.00am to 3.30pm. It takes about half an hour to forty minutes from the town to the rescue centre in an air-conditioned van. Cameras, comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen and mosquito sprays are highly recommended. Expect a lot of walking through bushes and open areas. There is also a small stall where you can buy snacks and drinks if you forgot to bring your own.
If you feel that a day trip is too short and you would like to spend more time learning about the animals or even give a helping hand, WFFT offers volunteering programs (minimum length of stay is one week).
Why visit WFFT
WFFT offers a different kind of experience where visitors are educated and informed of wild animals’ plights within the tourism industry, something that most people might have overlooked unwittingly. You will also get to spend time with the rescued wild animals, observe and interact with them in a manner that does not cause them harm.