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International Programs Student Trip Reports
In keeping with Texas A&M’s Vision 2020 objective of graduating students with a global perspective based on global experiences, the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences provides a limited number of travel stipends to students to help them gain international work/study experiences. The following travel reports give an overview of what our students learned while living, working, and studying abroad.
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Thailand - Liz Measday

Thailand - Liz Measday

A few years ago, I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life. A friend asked me "What is your idea of happiness?" Without batting an eye, or missing a beat, I replied, "Being in Thailand. At Elephant Nature Park, working with abused elephants." It was as simple as that. However, deep down, I knew Elephant Nature Park was a fantastical notion- my ultimate pipe-dream- something cherished but unattainable.

I had discovered the sanctuary after it was featured on TV. It captured my attention because it was the first time I learned of the hidden horrors that Asian Elephants endure at the hands of humans in order to make them trainable and profitable. The hidden footage they showed shocked me to my core, but following that, they showed some lucky elephants that made it to the "Elephant Nature Park" sanctuary in Thailand. I was glad and, to be honest, relieved, that a place like Elephant Nature Park existed (or the TV show would have been terribly depressing). They showed footage of the few rescued elephants that had found respite from the harsh working conditions, and violent trainers that made life unbearable. The elephants at the Park were finally given the opportunity to just be elephants.

Every few years, I would dig up the website, get super excited and plan my "trip" to Thailand. But reality would set in: I didn't have the money, much less the nerves to spend over a month in Thailand by myself. So, I'd tell myself, "another time." It happened often enough that believing I was going to Thailand become more of a routine than an actual possibility-until this summer.

Baby elephant with MomLast fall, as often happens, I fervently made my plans to finally go to Thailand's Elephant Nature Park. As a first year veterinary student, and I knew that my summer vacations were numbered so this might be my last chance to chase my dream. When I heard that the College of Veterinary Medicine's International Program offered travel stipends, I applied for it and was chosen to receive a stipend which removed cost as a barrier to go. I met with my faculty mentors who encouraged me to travel to Thailand. So, with financial help and encouragement there were no excuses not to take, my dream trip to Elephant Nature Park.

Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary (or more of an "old-folks home" as one staff veterinarian jokingly told me) for traumatized, mentally and physically abused Asian elephants. All but a few are now left physically handicapped from the abuse they have endured from man (illegal logging camps, landmines, tourism:trekking/street begging/circuses). Many are blind. One elephant, Jokia, was blinded in one eye when her mahout had used a slingshot to punish her. Her other eye was stabbed repeatedly when she hit her mahout with her trunk after suffering harsh beatings for not obeying him (she was recovering from a miscarriage at the time). Many have poorly healed broken limbs. Medo lives with a broken back because her owner sold her to a "forced mating" camp, as a last ditch effort to make a profit from her. While she was chained up for mating, she was attacked by the bull elephant. The bull elephant broke her back, and stabbed her with his tusks-she barely survived. Mae Tee, is a chronic foot-infection elephant with extremely painful joints, so painful she cannot lie down anymore. She had two owners- one worked her during the day, and the other made her work through the night with the use of amphetamines. Every elephant at the park has a story- some of them sickening to hear. Many of their physical wounds have healed up- however the emotional damage from their earlier life is so deep and horrific, they will most likely never completely recover.

Elephants in river at Park_ThailandI did a 4 week vet student program at the Park, and worked with an amazing group of veterinarians, as well as fellow vet students from Canada, Michigan and Alabama (I was the first vet student the Park had received from Texas). At the Park, the veterinarians clean wounds, treat infections, do fecal testing, do eye treatments, administer fluids, clean and trim feet, administer oral medications, do blood work, and, if you're lucky, the occasional enema . In the few weeks I spent at the Park, working with the elephants took me completely outside the realm of tradition veterinary care for domestic animals. Asian elephants are not domesticated. At best, they are tamed. They really are absolutely wild animals and doing veterinary work on them made me realize how important it is to: evaluate the environment, read body language, know the anatomy- specifically senses of the patient (field of vision, mobility range of the trunk or leg, etc.), use your peripheral vision, and always be positioned to make a fast getaway. These were all factors that did not weigh as heavily on my when I was working at a small animal clinic in the suburbs of Texas, but at the Park, my life depended on it.

In addition to the veterinary experienced gained from working with the elephants, the Park also has a dog clinic that cares for its 450+ dogs rescued from the 2011 floods. I was excited about the dog clinic because I plan to work in the field of shelter medicine, which includes: population control, shelter and animal control care, and, importantly, public education. Shelter medicine interests me because I feel it is an opportunity to impact the lives of many animals, and help educate the public on increasing the quality of life for their pets.   At the clinic, I was working with a high volume of dogs, using limited medications and supplies, in less than ideal conditions - not to mention, being in the hot, and humid jungle landscape of northern Thailand. In the clinic, I was able to put my interest in shelter medicine to the test, and in the end- the rewards of helping the dogs always outweighed cons of working at the clinic (like picking ticks off yourself or finding them in your laundry)

Aside from working with the elephants and dogs, the biggest reward for me is the relationships I formed with the people I met at the Park. By staying at the park for four weeks, I was able to build wonderful, cherished friendships with the veterinarians, and park staff. I was also immersed in Thai culture, and the experience has had a profound impact on my perspective of the world and respect for other cultures.  My month there truly was one of the happiest times of my life, and I hope to return to the Park someday- for a much longer period of time.

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