animal welfare

Namaste Jan

Since May I have been trying to write something proper about Jan Salter MBE, founder of the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre and my friend. She died in 2018 and it was clear to me she changed my life and I wanted to tell others how much. Unfortunately, during times like this words often fail us.

I had the wonderful opportunity to write something about my experience in Nepal for Musa Masala. Of course, I knew I couldn’t write about Nepal without writing about Jan. Words continued to fail me but at least I was able to write something. Please accept my humble offering of how Nepal, a country of tremendous beauty, welcoming smiles and impossibly interesting history changed my life by helping my path cross Jan’s.

Nepal: Inspiration for a New Beginning.

Namaste,

Nora

"Why is that monkey in a cage?"

monkey in a cage

I was recently talking to someone about our work at Animal Experience International, when she stopped me to ask why the photo I was showing her was of a spider monkey in a cage.

Did AEI support caging wild animals?

This was an important question, and a topic I am also passionate about as a wildlife veterinarian. I do not want to see wildlife kept in captivity if they can be living their lives free in the wild. The spider monkey in the photo was actually being housed at a wildlife rescue centre in Guatemala. This is an amazing organization that works tirelessly to rescue wild animals that have been captured as part of the illegal wildlife trade. When animals are confiscated from smugglers or from people using them to entertain tourists, they need somewhere to recover from their terrible ordeal. Some require medical attention. Others need supportive care. And orphaned babies need to be raised until they are old enough to care for themselves. While at the rescue centre, the animals are housed in enclosures that keep them safe, while protecting the humans that care for them.

So yes, they are in cages - but only temporarily. The goal is always to release them back to the wild. Staff and volunteers work hard to make the animals’ experience at the rescue centre as comfortable as possible. The wildlife are provided with environmental enrichment, places to hide and an enclosure set up that allows them to carry out their natural behaviours. The animals are moved to larger and larger enclosures as they begin to heal, and contact with people becomes less and less. For this spider monkey, he will eventually be housed with other spider monkeys in a large enclosure deep in the forest of the rescue centre and will see people as little as possible to minimize his exposure to humans. One day these spider monkeys will all be released to live their lives free in the jungle.

Gibbon Island in Thailand

Gibbon Island in Thailand


AEI also supports several wildlife sanctuaries that provide a safe home for animals that cannot survive in the wild, and therefore cannot be released. Our elephant and wildlife sanctuary in Thailand is an excellent example of an organization working to provide a dignified and comfortable home for rescued, non-releasable animals. Their enclosures help to protect the animals, and are as large and natural as possible to ensure the animals are comfortable. Take for example their gibbons that cannot be released for one reason or another. These amazing primates are given an island to live on, separate from the main centre and are even fed remotely using a pulley system so that they are very rarely in contact with people. They are allowed to live as naturally as possible without human interference.


It is a sad reality that wild animals need to be kept in captivity at times in order to help or protect them. AEI supports organizations that house wildlife on a temporary basis, as part of a rescue and rehabilitation program. If providing long-term sanctuary we ensure that the best possible care is being offered the animals and that their lives are enriched and natural behaviours are encouraged. This is something that is very important to us - because wild animals deserve to be kept wild.

Want to volunteer with us in Guatemala or Thailand? Check out our program pages to volunteer anytime during the year (animals need help all year round and so we send volunteers all year round). Want to volunteer in Guatemala WITH us? Why not sign up for Expedition Guatemala? Take part in the rehabilitation of wildlife with your own two hands and understand the amazing work that is being done, first hand. 10 days volunteering with wildlife in February, sign up today!

Introducing bite sized animal volunteer experiences!

We now have 1 week programs available!

You spoke, we listened! While we would love to all have months and months every year to go volunteer with animals, sometimes that just isn't feasible. Our jobs, families and lives are jam packed already. So what can we do to help even more people help animals: Introducing 1 Week Experiences! 

Over the next few days we will be rolling out new prices for our partners that can take volunteers for 1 week experiences. It won't be all of our programs, some have so much training that 7 days is just not enough to get the full experience, but there will be quite a few that welcome shorter term volunteers. 

This not only means a smaller investment of time, it means a smaller investment in fees. We won't be cutting any corners, the programs still receive donations, you still get travel insurance, your in-country travel is still carbon balanced and you still get to have one of the most amazing trips of a lifetime! Hopefully these amazing experiences will fit into your life just a little better. 

What programs will you be able to take part in for one week? Sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica, flying fox rehabilitation in Australia, dog rescue in Mexico, elephant recuperation in Thailand, baboon care in Southern Africa and many more! Check out the website and take a look!

Remember, we also run short expeditions once a year for those who want to volunteer on a program in a group! In 2019 we are going to Guatemala to volunteer at a wildlife centre. Our volunteer coordinator will be taking people to northern Guatemala so they can safely and humanely volunteer with toucans, wild boars, monkeys and more! No experience is required- all the training is on the ground. 10 days in Guatemala, what a way to live your dreams!

We Are Arc Benders!

Combining Adventure with Animal ConservationNora Livingstone, Founder & CEO of Animal Experience International

Nora Livingstone is the founder and CEO  of Animal Experience International, a certified B Corp on a mission to help animals around the globe by matching clients with animal related volunteer opportunities at sanctuaries, hospitals, wildlife rehabilitation centres, research projects and government programs. Her mission is to empower students, professionals and animal lovers to travel by providing exceptional volunteer adventures!

She shares how AEI got started, the lessons she’s learned along the way, and her advice for people that want to find their purpose.

What initially inspired you to make a difference and what career path did you follow?

I sort of fell into it, not realizing what my dream was or what my purpose was. When I graduated from university I decided to travel and volunteer. I thought that I would love for other people to do this and I wanted to help my friends have the same experience.

It was a low stakes idea – I could tell other people how they could volunteer. I was a volunteer coordinator at a wildlife center in Canada, which is where I met my current business partner. She’s a veterinarian there. After I left that center, I floated around for a while.

I loved coordinating volunteers and getting people involved and investing in people. I especially appreciated the amount of help and benefit that can go into one project, if you have a team. My (now) business partner, Heather, came up to me at a BBQ and basically pitched the idea for Animal Experience International

Confronting the Aftermath of Animal Trafficking in Costa Rica.

When you google ocelot, this is what comes up:

Can you keep an ocelot as a pet?

Is it legal to have an ocelot as a pet?

Are ocelots dangerous pets?

_____

Animal trafficking is alive and well in the Americas. It's disturbing how these animals are captured. It's harrowing to see how they are illegally trafficked from the country. It's heartbreaking to see what their lives become when they are stolen from the wild and live as unhappy pets in small enclosures. 

This is an animal sanctuary we recently visited in Costa Rica. While sanctuaries are not perfect (only the wild is), it did a pretty damn good job explaining to people why these animals couldn't be realised back into their forest homes. Spoiler alert: humans. When these animals are trafficked sometimes their teeth are ripped out without anaesthetic, sometimes they are declawed without anaesthetic, sometimes they are just taken so young they never had a chance to learn how to be wild. They can't hunt, socialise, den or even really cat. 

Humanities obsession with owning things and our entitlement over the natural world has spelled often a life of torture and psychosis for the animals who survive animal trafficking. 

If you love animals, keep them in the wild. Ocelots are not for you, no matter how cute you think they are. 

While this enclosure is pretty good habitat for this cat, it pales in comparison to the life she would have if she was in the wild.

While this enclosure is pretty good habitat for this cat, it pales in comparison to the life she would have if she was in the wild.

Readers Digest says no to elephant...

rides!

Why? Because they asked us what tourist attractions were overrated. We thought about this idea at first. We love being tourists, that is why we started AEI. We love travel but we love giving back- the real reason we started AEI. 

We love going to new and exciting places and getting selfies with other tourists. We love meeting people at landmarks we had only dreamed of visiting. We love coming back and showing silly grins from silly friends exploring places that have been explored before, just not by us. We love being tourists. We love touring the world. So did we really think there were things that were overrated. Then we remembered the horrible torture of elephants and we remembered yes, of course there were things that were overrated- they were things that take advantage of animals, people and communities. 

Elephant rides help no one. Before elephants can be trained to have someone (or someones) on their back they have to be horribly broken as babies. We would explain it more, but it really is horrific. A quick search on google will keep you crying for days. After elephants are terribly broken, they can be dangerously shipped all over the countries they are living in. Sometimes on the back of trucks, sometimes on trains, always horrified and in danger of hurting themselves and others. Once they get to the attraction they will be working in they are typically not given enough water, socialisation or room to roam. They are chained when they are not boringly walking the same track over and over again with heavy loads on their backs. Do the elephants like this? Of course they don't. Do the communities that have elephant rides located close to them? Typically they don't either. They see these elephants languishing in the sun, in pain, bleeding and rocking due to boredom and torture. Not many communities we have talked to are excited to say they host exploitative acts. 

So why even have them anymore? Because people want to see elephants and don't know there is a better way! The better way is visiting and volunteering at elephant sanctuaries. Places were elephants are allowed to live in social groups with enough water, browse and space to walk, without chains and painful isolation. We help people volunteer in Thailand at such a beautiful and loving place, you can volunteer their, too! Check out our Elephant Sanctuary Volunteering page and write us a note if you are interested. 

There aren't too many things that we think are overrated when you travel, but we for sure think there is no good tourism when there is exploitation. 

Check our Readers Digest's article about overrated tourist attractions and see what we have to say about elephants!