Animal welfare is a growing concern throughout the world, and nowhere more so than in Asia. There are lots of organisations that are doing some truly admirable work in the protection of this continent’s wildlife and animals.
Hundreds of animal sanctuaries exist, with numerous opportunities for volunteering and/or submitting online donations. Here are some of the top centres throughout Asia.
Elephant Nature Park is an award winning elephant sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai; this is one of the only true elephant sanctuaries in the area and the work they do is incredibly comprehensive, very honest and beneficial. Elephant Nature Park is home to dozens of elephants that have come from all over Thailand and are now given a new lease of life. The work at Elephant Nature Park extends beyond animal rehabilitation, the park also runs a massive local reforestation project, and support the cultural preservation of the surrounding communities. On top of this the park places a large importance on education, and make it part of its mission to educate visitors, particularly promoting eco-tourism.
This place is a popular spot on the tourist trail thanks to the authenticity of the good work that is being done here and the beauty of the flora and fauna. If you’re in Chiang Mai, we would highly recommend paying a visit; with a variety of different experiences on offer, there is bound to be something to suit your holiday schedule. There are many chances to get involved in the work of the Elephant Nature Park: from a single day visit (the shortest trip runs from 9am until 3.30pm), where you are able to interact in close quarters with the elephants, including feeding and bathing time, right through to week long volunteering projects where you will have a chance to make a real contribution to the work that is being done.
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, a division of the Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand (WARF), is a sanctuary dedicated to the protection and reintroduction of gibbons into Thailand. Sadly, gibbons became extinct in the wild in Phuket 30 years ago, and this project was founded with an aim to repopulate Phuket’s forest with these noble primates. At the sanctuary they care for rescued gibbons, but they also undertake various works in the area of environmental conservation. They conduct research into the best rehabilitation and reintroduction practises, run education programmes for local communities as well as tourists, campaign to bring an end to illegal trading of gibbons, and provide a variety of volunteering opportunities, particularly for people wishing to complete studies in this area.
Aside from research and study volunteering opportunities, there are many ways that you can get involved in the work of the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project. The project has live-in volunteering opportunities, where you will help with the day-to-day running of the centre, as well as interact with the gibbons, conducting health checks, helping with feeding etc. If you don’t fancy volunteering then you can always pop in to the project’s Centre for Conservation Education, located near the Bang Pae Waterfall. You will not be guaranteed to see many primates (as this is not a zoo) but you have the chance to learn a lot about these animals and possibly see some in their natural habitat.
The island of Nusa Penida is fast-becoming a wildlife sanctuary dedicated to protecting Bali’s endangered species of bird, and it is hoped that, given its success, this might soon extend to other animals, such as the sea-turtle. The island’s 40+ villages have been working together with the Friends of the National Parks Foundation (FNPF) to create a safe-haven for the most precious and dwindling Bali bird species that elsewhere fall prey to poachers. There are many species of bird that are looked after here, including the Java Sparrow, Cockatoos and Lorikeets, however, the biggest success story is that of the Bali Starling.
The Bali Starling is an emblem of Bali and has been hunted to extinction in the wild – it is now the second rarest bird in the world, with Nusa Penida the only place to find a wild population. With a population of 100 birds, it is quite startling how successful this conservation project has been. The project works by liberating and rehabilitating captured birds, fighting against an illegal trade market and introducing massive habitat restoration. The project has proved so successful that the entire area is soon set to become an officially protected zone, under Indonesian law.
The sanctuary has seen a massive increase in eco-tourism, and international wildlife and conservationist experts have visited the area. It really is impressive how much difference this has made, particularly considering how dire things looked for Bali Starlings (amongst other species) only a decade ago. You can visit Nusa Penida travelling from Bali: there are a wealth of eco-cultural attractions to be seen here, and there are also a number of volunteering opportunities if you want to lend a hand and support the fantastic work that is being done here. The best thing is, you don’t need any experience in sustainable development.
Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre is a 43km2 sanctuary that sits on the edge of the Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve. These primates have fallen prey to poachers and massive deforestation, however, there is now a growing movement that has seen their protection become a priority, with many laws now in place to protect them. This centre, which has been going for over fifty years, primarily aims to take care of vulnerable, orphaned or previously captured orang-utans: to nurture them and create a space for them to learn how to look after themselves in the wild. Then, if all goes to plan, the animals are released, many into the reserve itself, which is a protected piece of land.
Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre does some truly admirable work in this field, they currently have 25 orphaned orang-utans in their care, and it doesn’t stop there: they have also homed rhinos, gibbons and bears. They do allow visitors, and it is really worth a look in, as it is a sublime experience seeing these creatures in their natural habitat, but be warned, this is not a zoo. The welfare of the orang-utans is the top priority, and they are not there for visitors’ entertainment. That being said, they definitely can be very entertaining!
Animal SOS is an organisation based in south Sri Lanka that is dedicated to helping look after the country’s strays: there really is an overwhelming problem with stray animals, particularly dogs, in Sri Lanka. These animals live wretched existences: disease, abuse, road accidents and malnutrition are just a few problems they encounter, and for many there is no hope for their suffering to end. That is where Animal SOS come in, their mission is manifold, but namely to reduce the population of strays in a humane and compassionate way.
Animal SOS are undertaking a mass-sterilisation scheme, as well as providing medical care for those animals that cannot survive on the streets on their own, with a particular focus on the elimination of disease: namely, but not exclusively, rabies. The work they are doing is having a big impact, and they are always looking for volunteers.
Want to get involved?
If you are thinking of getting involved, below are a few extra specific ideas that you may want to consider when planning your trip.
- If you fancy volunteering but are not sure whether you want to commit to something too formal, then check out the work of the Bali Animal Welfare Association. They are very flexible, and take all sorts of volunteers, even for a few hours, working with stray dogs. It is a great chance to give something back on your trip. http://bawabali.com/
- If you decide to head to the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre for a day visit, then we recommend getting there at 8.45 or 13:45 (or earlier) as you will have a chance to view their presentation and head over to the viewing platform for feeding time.
- If you’re visiting Nusa Penida, don’t forget to check out Goa Giri Putri, situated on the east coast are a set of stunning limestone caves, with beautiful views and a holy temple (held in high reverence by the local population), which make for a really unmissable day out.