I think it’s safe to say that our Global Vets trip this summer is finally all planned. Between countless emails and flight comparisons, we have created a rough itinerary. Our dates are set and we will be leaving for Southeast Asia this June. We will be visiting several different countries over the course of two months. Our travels will include stops in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Laos where we will volunteer with various animal rescue organizations.
One concern we came across while booking our trip was falling into the trap of voluntourism. Voluntourism is when travelers partake in volunteer activities with the idea of helping the communities they are traveling to. It seems like a very admirable act to dedicate your ‘vacation’ to the service of others. The problem is that organizations across the world have taken advantage of these travel goals and have begun to function more like businesses instead of charities. This is no different for volunteering within the veterinary field.
There are multiple sanctuaries in Southeast Asia that advertise the ability to work closely with elephants. This is very attractive to tourists and many placements charge up to $700 a week for the opportunity to volunteer with these amazing animals. My group was extremely excited for the chance to work with elephants, but we knew that we needed to investigate each placement. Unfortunately, some ‘rescues’ in Southeast Asia use the elephants to make a profit and very little of the money will be invested in the animals themselves. Behind the scenes, the animals are often neglected or mistreated. We vowed to strictly avoid any organizations that promoted the riding of elephants or photography with sedated animals due to ethical concerns.
As veterinary students, it is our responsibility to stand up for the ethical treatment of animals. We want to feel reassured that our money and time will directly benefit the animals in a meaningful way. We used these principles to choose two wildlife organizations that are highly regarded and work tirelessly to save and rehabilitate animals. We hope to use these experiences to educate ourselves and then, in turn, educate the public about the plight of these animals.