CHIANGRAI TIMES – While some students might spend this summer lounging by a beach, working a summer job or taking classes, third-year veterinary student Erica Ward is going to be scrubbing down and bandaging up elephants in Thailand.
For the second consecutive summer, Ward is organizing a group of veterinary and pre-veterinary students to travel to Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand to provide treatment and care for domesticated elephants that cannot survive on their own in the wild.
“(The elephants’) job at the park is just to live out the rest of their lives in a place that they can be happy,” Ward said.
Last year, two weeks of Ward’s trip were spent with nine other students at the park with the elephants, and the next two weeks were spent touring the country.
This year, there are roughly 40 students from across the country, including some from MSU, leaving the U.S. on a two-week rotation similar to Ward’s trip last year. The students will be divided into four groups, and each will spend two weeks volunteering at the park and two weeks traveling.
Ward will spend nine total weeks in Thailand, during which she also will spend time studying at Chiang Mai University.
She said she hopes to make a career as a large animal vet, ideally traveling the world to areas that need veterinary assistance as she enjoys humanitarian work.
“While we were there (last year,) I noticed there was a great need for veterinary supplies and different things they didn’t have available,” Ward said.
“It was really hard to do some of the medical treatments on the animals.”
This time around, Ward is bringing suitcases full of medical supplies, some of which were donated by Neogen Corp., 620 Lesher Place, in Lansing.
The company donated 360 rolls of its Pro-Flex bandage wrap to Ward’s cause, said Laura Hadley, equine and companion animal marketing manager at Neogen Corp.
“We just wanted to … support her — it’s a great product and will hopefully help her out,” Hadley said.
The Elephant Nature Park, which primarily is operated by volunteers, also houses dogs, cats, pigs and a black bear, Ward said.
Daily tasks involve feeding and bathing the elephants, as well as bandaging and treating wounds including sores, eye injuries and old-age problems such as arthritis, she said.
“The most common problems that we see are problems associated with either old age or their previous lifestyle working in the tourist industry,” Ward said.
The opportunity to get hands-on veterinary experience and travel to an exotic location is what sold zoology junior Brittany Lindstrom on participating in the project.
Since she got involved with the trip, Lindstrom has organized various fundraising events to help other members pay their way to Thailand, such as dog washes and fundraising events at Buffalo Wild Wings.
After doing some research, Lindstrom said she’s thrilled about working with the animals in person, but she’s just as anxious to experience the culture in Thailand.
“I’ve read a lot about (elephants), and everyone says they’re big, gentle giants,” Lindstrom said.