Advocating for animal welfare

Isabella Sorrentino and an elephant friend she'll never forget.

Supplied by Isabella Sorrentino.

Personnel Image

Written By

Tianna Killoran


College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences

Publish Date

13 April 2023

Related Study Areas

Animals abroad

It is important to recognise the essential role that veterinarians play in promoting fairness and equity within the veterinary profession. JCU Veterinary Science student Isabella Sorrentino shares her exchange program experience in Thailand and the importance of advocating for the welfare of exotic and domestic animals.

“I have always been deeply fascinated by science and intrigued with nature and the underlying conditions of its existence,” Isabella says. “This curiosity, combined with my love of the human-animal bond, has instilled in me the ambition to become a veterinarian.”

During the third year of her Bachelor of Veterinary Science at JCU, Isabella had the opportunity to undertake a two-week placement in Thailand as part of the Destination Australia Cheung Kong Exchange Program. “I was eager to participate in the program as soon as it was announced,” Isabella says.

Isabella says that the exchange experience in Thailand enriched her veterinary experience and gave her a broader view of animal welfare within international contexts. "What truly interests me about a veterinary career is having a platform to influence policy for animal betterment,” she says. “I believe that it is essential for veterinarians to disseminate information with the purpose of formulating policies and guidelines and safeguarding the health and wellbeing of all non-human species."

Isabella Sorrentino had the opportunity to care for a variety of animals while on placement in Thailand.

Supplied by Isabella Sorrentino.

Isabella checking on the health of a goat in Thailand.

Supplied by Isabella Sorrentino.

While on placement, Isabella learnt about a variety of safe handling techniques and veterinary treatments for domestic and exotic animals, including buffalo.

Supplied by Isabella Sorrentino.

A trunk-full of fun

As part of her exchange program, Isabella was able to get a close look at the intersection of the tourism industry and animal welfare, especially when working with exotic species. “Learning handling and management strategies for exotic animals, including elephants, meerkats and tigers was a true highlight of my time!” she says.

During the program, Isabella says she was able to gain practical experience and a deeper understanding from professionals working in the field. “Everyone at Mahidol University was so welcoming. They were all very willing to share their knowledge and experience in working with exotic and domestic animals,” Isabella says.

As part of her time in Thailand, Isabella had the opportunity to engage with organisations advocating for elephant welfare within the tourism industry. “Many tourists dream of getting up close and personal with an elephant but often don’t realise the harmful effects of activities like elephant rides,” she says. “The elephant is a sacred symbol of the Thai people, and it’s important to preserve and respect that.”

“Elephants used for tourist activities are kept in captivity and, as a result, their mental wellbeing is often poor. With many living in neglectful conditions, it’s estimated that only 10 per cent of Thailand’s captive elephants live in adequate conditions,” she says. “Importantly, riding elephants also causes them to develop spinal problems and terrible wounds on their backs from carrying heavy loads.”

“Fortunately, there’s a lot we can still do,” Isabella says. “We can provide important education for tourists and Thai caretakers of these elephants. It’s also crucial to support ethical elephant sanctuaries who save elephants from torturous conditions. It is still possible to rehabilitate and reintegrate elephants back into their herds.”

It was an incredibly rewarding experience to work alongside others who were equally passionate about animal welfare. My time abroad gave me practical experience in communicating with farmers and zookeepers about caring for the animals, providing medical advice, and discussing important ethical and welfare standards.

JCU Veterinary Science Student, Isabella Sorrentino

Four people standing in a row on a set of steps.
JCU veterinary science student Isabella Sorrentino holding a white snake in her arms.
Two people kneeling next to a white and brown goat looking at an ultrasound image on a screen in front of them.
Left: Isabella, second from left, with other students and staff at Mahidol University in Thailand. Top right: Isabella up close and personal with some slithery friends. Bottom right: Isabella gaining experience in animal care on placement. Supplied by Isabella Sorrentino.

Pursuing ethical care in policy and practice

Isabella says that her exchange experience in Thailand opened her eyes to the diverse career pathways following a degree in veterinary science. “As a veterinary science student, I am privileged to have such an array of career paths to follow after I graduate,” she says.

“I have a keen interest in animal ethics and would love to complete a PhD in the future, researching welfare standards within our livestock production systems in Australia and around the world,” Isabella says.

“I’m very passionate about reforming intensive farming practices, safeguarding animal welfare standards, and preventing the spread of zoonotic disease and antimicrobial resistance among livestock,” she says. “Veterinarians have a responsibility for food safety and security. They must remain active in solving these global issues.”

Providing care for neglected and homeless animals is another project Isabella says she would like to pursue in the future. “Toward the latter part of my professional career, I also hope to open an animal sanctuary focusing on neglected animals roaming the streets of Thailand,” Isabella says.

Throughout her time in Thailand, Isabella says her attention was drawn to the growing issue of homeless animal welfare. “The experience helped me realise the need for veterinary assistance to address the concern of homeless animals. I hope to provide aid to animals in need while working within the community as a veterinarian. I can help to communicate the importance of providing care for the domesticated animals that rely on humans to flourish.”

“During my exchange in Thailand, I was also given advice and counsel about running an animal shelter. This has inspired me to investigate ways to address animal homelessness in Townsville. Hopefully, this is a project in the making!"

Keen to have an experience abroad like Isabella and want to know where JCU can take you? Find out how the Global Experience team can help you embed travel into your JCU degree.

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