Some people go to Thailand to tour temples and sample street food. Twenty-year-old Julie Feldman went to Asia to help elephants.
Shortly after finishing her second year of animal science and pre-vet studies at Cal Poly Pomona, Julia traded the comforts of her Long Beach home for a humble dormitory in the city of Chiang Mai. There, she joined a team of volunteers offering veterinary services to animals in need.
Traveling with the Loop Abroad program, Julia and her fellow students spent a week serving the Elephant Nature Park (ENP), a sanctuary for rescued elephants. Many of the creatures needed treatment for injuries from landmines planted decades ago by insurgents. Explosions from these hidden devices continue to injure Thai people and animals.
Guided by an onsite veterinarian, Julia learned to administer medications and clean and dress the elephants’ wounds. She described the ENP experience as amazing.
“For some elephants, we had to put the pills in sticky rice balls, bread, bananas or even tamarind,” she explained. “We walked up to the elephant, said ‘aba,’ the elephant would open its mouth and we’d place the ball of food behind its tongue.”
Julia’s group also learned about muscle and respiratory function and performed diet analyses on the elephants in the center. By collecting urine and fecal samples, they were able to identify urinary tract infections and potential kidney problems.
After a week at the rural mountain facility, Julia’s team transitioned to an animal clinic in the city. There, they were taught to pull blood, suture, place an intravenous catheter, and perform blood smears and ear swabs. Although the center was called a dog clinic, it serviced both dogs and cats. Julia said one of her clinic highlights was scrubbing in and assisting with feline and canine spay and neuter surgeries.
Loop Abroad offers a variety of marine and animal science programs for students and young adults. Experiences, which range in length from two weeks to a full semester, are available in Thailand, South Africa, Australia, Galapagos and the Amazon. Information about Loop Abroad is at www.loopabroad.com.
“Our students are some of the most amazing people I have ever met,” Loop Abroad Managing Director Jane Stine said. “They are kind, compassionate, dedicated, hard-working individuals who have big goals and want to make an impact.”
Julia, who grew up with dogs and cats, said she has always loved working with animals. Her first science fair project, which focused on dog training, went all the way to the district level. When Julia finishes her undergraduate work, she said she plans to get a doctorate in veterinary medicine and become a board-certified behaviorist. She described the Loop Abroad veterinary program as expensive, but “worth every penny.”
“The experience we gained is invaluable,” Julia said. “I never thought in a million years I would decide to travel, by myself, more than halfway around the world, at such a young age and get to work with elephants.”