HELPLESS- Pictured here is an injured macaque at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. Red Deerian Kelsey Oster is currently working with the organization.

Local woman aims to make a difference in Thailand

A local young woman has traveled to Thailand in hopes of making a difference with Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT). And people here at home can also step up in the efforts to protect vulnerable wildlife in that country.

Kelsey Oster, 18, of Red Deer is currently volunteering in Thailand. She is there for just over nine weeks with the organization whose mandate is wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and conservation.

“My original plan was to volunteer for four weeks starting on January 22nd, then backpack for the rest of my time. However due to the recent events regarding the

Department of National Parks confiscation of animals, I have extended my stay,” said Oster, who is staying about 200 kms south of Bangkok.

According to their web site, WFFT rescues wild animals from places where they are mistreated and/or neglected and helps them to spend the rest of their lives in a sanctuary as close to their natural environment as possible. The organization also aims to educate people, particularly children to stop cruelty to animals.

Currently WFFT runs several projects from hands-on wildlife rescue, medical care, wildlife rehabilitation, research on wildlife and marine mammals as well as the release of animals back to the wild.

“The goal at WFFT is to create a safe environment for all of the animals that they rescue. It is also important to WFFT that the animals are not used as props and that they can live the rest of their lives in the best way possible for them.”

Oster found out about WFFT online while looking for an elephant rescue organization in Thailand. “The reason why I volunteered here is because I wanted to do something useful and different for my year off of school.”

Throughout her stay, Oster has been witness to many challenging incidents including a number of raids that have taken place on non-governmental organizations.

According to their web site, WFFT said they have been hit by these raids and were recently raided by more than 100 armed officials of the Department of National Parks and border police units. Oster said the reason WFFT was raided was because the founder Edwin Wiek spoke out against animal poaching in national parks.

“The most shocking thing I have experienced is the way that the DNP treats the animals as well as the people. The DNP taunt the animals while they are catching them, as well as taunting the volunteers. They have also arrived with armed guards,” said Oster. “I was there for everyday of the raids. On days where animals are taken it’s terrible. Everyone is running around trying to film how they are catching the animals because more often then not the DNP abuses the animals during the catch.

“On the days we were raided, the DNP shows up, sometimes with armed guards. On these days there was over 70 men. It’s very intimidating, even more so at night — occasionally they have stayed the night to monitor us.”

Illegal animal trade is the second largest illegal trade in Thailand.

“The system is so corrupt that even DNP officials are poaching animals and taking baby elephants from national parks,” said Oster. “Most of this unfortunately spurs from tourism. People come to Thailand and want to buy an elephant tusk or even ride on an elephant.”

From across the world, Oster is reaching back to the Red Deer community to help.

“People in Red Deer and around the world can help by spreading the news, as well as by donating. Individuals wanting to may also sign the petition that is online or they can contact the Thai embassy — which is also greatly appreciated.”

For more information visit www.wfft.org.

efawcett@reddeerexpress.com