The country undeniably has a checkered history - and present, when it comes to the treatment of animals. Just taking a look through facebook and tripadvisor demonstrates that for many overseas holiday makers, a ride on an elephant or a photo with a monkey dressed in dolls' clothes in the street or nightclub is a memorable highlight of their trip. The trade corridor from Thailand to China provides opportunity for collectors and natural medicine enthusiastics to procure exotic specimens at cheap prices, no questions asked.
The entertainment of our human race is a lucrative business the world over. One which sees the prevalence of NGOs in animal welfare and conservation adding their voice in an attempt to stem the tide of the mistreated, uninformed, malnourished and all out mutilation of our planet's biodiversity.
My sister and I found WFFT online a couple of years ago and have volunteered there twice now. The devastating flood of 2010 ripped apart many of the enclosures at the centre and washed out the volunteer housing. It was going to be a hard road back. In 2011 I was amazed at how much had been achieved. The animal enclosures were vastly improved, the enrichment programs advanced and all the wildlife residents were healthy and well feed. It seemed that adversity just set the resolve of WFFT to fight and work harder for those animals who relied on the care and protection of staff and volunteers.
In 2011 I spent some time with WFFT Founder Edwin Wiek looking over the new enclosures and plans for the developing areas of the centre. It was amazing how big the place was becoming. Actually sad that so much space was needed and that so many animals were in need. Edwin wandered (quickly and with purpose as he always does) pointing out plans for this space and that. All the while taking time to chat to the animals we passed. Edwin knows them all by name. All 450 of them. He can tell you when and how each one came to the centre. Some particularly hold a very dear place in his heart; Meow the tiger, rescued from chains at a petrol station, now forever tormented by a moto- neurological condition creating epileptic-like fits, or Jojo the primate with such psychological trauma that he can not control his reflexes. Jojo adores Edwin, and he Jojo, so much so that on the rare occasion Edwin gets some downtime, the two of them can be found in a hammock reading a book and grooming as primates do.
|Jojo with Edwin Wiek at WFFT|
It was during this visit in December 2011 that the centre lost a second elephant in as many months. I had spent a couple of the few days Joan had spent at the centre after her release (for payment) from an elephant camp, trying to care for her, along with fellow volunteer Rene (O2E phlogs on Joan here and here). It wasn't any use, she was too sick and died. Given up for money after her owners realised she couldn't carry or entertain the tourists anymore. The owners told a story with half truths and promise and handed over the 60 year old to spend her remaining days in retirement. None of us were to know her days were to be so few. Joan's story is a sad one and so common in Thailand. She was a lovely lady, quite partial to bumping us females just so we knew she was there. She had her first swim, her first juicy pineapple, her first affection at WFFT. She held on for a few days revelling in this new found joy until the illness that had gripped her won.
We were devastated. Edwin particularly so. The frustration, the disgust we all felt, he gathered up around him and set himself firmly to fight. With 22 years experience in life in Thailand, Edwin knows the place and the people well. He is outspoken and is known to be so. Many quotes come to mind from famous and infamous people in history that were suited to the situation at hand. Ralph Waldo Emerson, 17th century poet and individualist said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. Edwin told me that day Joan died that he had been writing about the elephant trade. It was time to release his thoughts to the media. For Joan and every other tortured living creature in Thailand and the world over.
So we buried Joan that day and life at the centre continued, set in its resolve that we would care and protect those we could and remember Joan and everything she stood for. Pragmatically aware that Joan is one of many and the list of wildlife that needed saving was growing by the day. I waited. Anxious for the day Edwin's words would be released.
I didn't have to wait long. As it happened, several events hit the news back to back. Poachers in the national park, runaway "tamed" bull elephant...it seemed Thailand was determined to place their wildlife trade issues right out there for all to see. Edwin and WFFT made comment, releasing articles and opinions on these recent, tragic events. The air is ripe for change. And as in anything in life, some don't like change. They stamp their feet, they argue, they sabotage, they fight back.
Coinciding with this, was the international conference on tiger crime, hosted by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), attended by such global enterprises as CITES and INTERPOL.Bangkok was the host. All the international major stakeholders were in town for two days. By all media generated accounts, it was a huge success. The outcome - a signing of mandates and conventions detailing the parties commitment to eradicating tiger crime. It's all very high level UN type stuff; "we condemn this, we support that, we are committed..." Edwin was interviewed several times and again made comment highlighting the overarching issues of corruption and governmental restrictions.
On the 13th February 2012, the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand and a northern elephant rescue park, Elephant Nature Park were raided by the Department of National Parks (DNP). Demands for ownership papers for all of the 450 animals at WFFT were made. The timeframe to produce. 2 hours. Edwin's wife Noi (Jansaeng Sangnanork) was arrested and escorted to the police station by 30 armed officers. The siege on WFFT and Edwin Wiek had begun.
The heartbreaking story is well documented through Facebook and Twitter. You can read for yourselves, if you haven't already, how those days panned out. The threats, harassment and abusive handling of animals confiscated is evident as you read and watch the images (www.wix.com/anoelle45/wffthelp is a great site by a volunteer that gathers resources and information from around the world on the raid).
After just 5 days the social media was reaching an audience of 381,200 tweeters, about 20,000 facebookers and 16,064 signatures on the petition site . The exposure was monumentuous. The support for those on the ground was overwhelming. Support from organisations such as Care for the Wild, Animals Australia, Bornfree Foundation and WWF flooded in, tapping in to their readership.
After threats of 103 confiscations the 70 armed DNP officers have taken 13 animals in 6 days. They camp outside the centre at night and show their presence, always that constant threatening promise that come daylight, they will be back inside to confiscate more. That's an incredible show of force, an intriguingly massive number of manpower for the 6 day (and counting) operation. Imagine what could be achieved with that resource? The DNP official 'S' still at large, wanted in connection with elephant poaching, for example...just saying...
Whilst things are quieter at the centre the past two days, with no confiscations pending discussions between WFFT legal representation and the DNP, the officials wait and the staff and volunteers also wait. Meanwhile there are 13 scared and lonely animals somewhere in a zoo in Thailand away from their home at the centre, being traumatised all over again.
We all wonder when will they be returned? It seems that with the paperwork all in order for WFFT's legal ownership of all wildlife at the centre, the DNP have no legal grounds to continue this charade, and yet even today more threats from officials that come Monday the reprisals will continue.
For all of those who have spent time at WFFT, the centre has changed our lives. My sister and I started Oceans2Earth Foundation in 2010 after volunteering there. We only hope the impact we can make in future years will compare to that of Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand, Edwin Wiek, Lucy Clark (Vet), Tommy Taylor (Volunteer Co-ordinator), Laurene Heuguerot and everyone involved with WFFT.
Our voices are with yours. Our thoughts and hopes too that this will be over soon. Edwin has published a letter which raises the very questions we have all been asking as we watch the seige unfold. Please have a read.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
You CAN make a difference. The supporters of WFFT have reached thousands of people, media and organisations and the story is out there for the international scrutiny it deserves.
Please go to http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/urgent-plea-for-rescued-thai-wildlife/ and sign the petition
Check out and follow @Edwinwiek and @Lucywildlife on Twitter (all captions in this blog are taken directly from Edwin or Lucy's twitter feed)
Join Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand Facebook page
Go to www.wix.com/anoelle45/wffthelp for video and pics, news stories on the raid. Click the Resources link for contact details of every organisation you can write to. There's even a letter template if you need it. Contact as many people as you can. If you know of any other organisation that might help, contact them and post their contact details on Facebook.