Student walks among elephants

Few students get a taste of their dream job while in high school, much less the opportunity to gain that experience halfway around the world. So when Diamond Bar High School senior Ethan Kim learned about a two-week volunteer program at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, he jumped at the chance to hop on a plane and work with his favorite animal.

“To get an opportunity to interact with [elephants] was an opportunity I couldn’t miss,” said Kim, who said he hopes to become a veterinarian.  

The park, located in the northern city of Chiang Mai, is a rescue and rehabilitation center that helps traumatized elephants from all over Thailand.

Kim helped rehabilitate elephants used as entertainment in circuses and as timber transporters in the logging industry.

“Some were mentally tortured when they were little because of the circus,” Kim said. “[Some] had their parents…killed in front of them [or] were chained to a pole or a tree with little movement for most of their lives. [One even] got shot in the eye with a slingshot.”

Kim was initially shocked at the large size of the elephants he worked with.

“I was…really scared of getting close to them,” Kim said. “But after a couple of days, I learned that they are very gentle creatures.”

Kim’s duties included entering the habitats to give vitamins to as many as 15 elephants, preparing their food by cutting bunches of bananas off their branches with a machete and cleaning the wounds of elephants injured by landmines that were never retrieved after the Cambodian Civil War.

“I just felt so sad of their past stories and [that] just made me want to help,” Kim said.

In addition to elephants, the nature park also shelters water buffaloes, horses, cows, dogs and cats.         

Even after working with large animals, Kim found cats to be the most difficult challenge while he simultaneously battled his cat allergy and the side effects of drowsiness that his allergy medication caused.

At the Dog Rescue Clinic, Kim had lessons every morning and time to practice the new techniques in the afternoon.

He also helped administer vital fluids and exercise the dogs and cats. During the last two days at the clinic, he was able to assist with surgery on some of the dogs, who were either paralyzed or had heart worms.

“[This experience] made me want to become a vet even more because when I was working with those animals, time just flew [by],” Kim said. “I wish I could have stayed there longer.”