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