Warm, not-so-fuzzy, and gigantic: Neogen donation to MSU student to help elephants in Thailand

Erica and Mae Tee (Photo courtesy of Erica Ward).

Neogen’s Pro-Flex is going to the elephants.

And the dogs. And the cats. And the horses. And…a black bear?

Neogen has donated 20 boxes, or 360 rolls, of Pro-Flex to a group of preveterinary and veterinary students who are traveling to Thailand this spring and summer to work with elephants and a plethora of furry creatures at the Elephant Nature Park. The group is headed by Michigan State University veterinary student Erica Ward, who worked at the park last year.

The Elephant Nature Park was founded in the 1996 in Thailand’s Chiang Mai province by Sangduen Chailert, better known by those who work with her as Lek. It is staffed by volunteers from around the world who directly work with the elephants daily. Lek has received international honors for her work with the elephants.

Erica visited the park last year as part of a service-adventure trip with ten other students. Upon her return, she immediately set to work beefing up the program.

“During my experience last year, I saw a great need for medical supplies,” Erica said. “The sanctuary was lacking equipment and materials that I expected and have grown accustomed to seeing at veterinary practices in the US……Elephant Nature Park does a great job and they are very proactive in getting what they need, but I learned firsthand that it is sometimes hard to find the necessary tools in Thailand.”

Erica assembled a group of about 40 preveterinary and veterinary students from across the U.S. and Canada to make the trip this year. Each person also will help transport materials such as bandages for the park’s clinic and for schools in the surrounding communities. Although the groups will begin leaving in May, Erica is leaving in April to study at Chiang Mai University, near the park. After her stint there, she will participate in a clinical rotation at the park where she will remain until mid July.

Cue Neogen’s Laura Waldock. In November, Erica approached Laura at the Association of Equine Practitioners meeting in Texas while working to get donations for the trip.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to help,” Laura said. “It was perfect timing.”

Soon, Erica was 20 boxes of Pro-Flex closer to her goal.

The ProFlex will help bind wounds on the park’s more than 30 elephants and numerous dogs, cats, pigs, horses, buffalo, and one black bear.

Helping the elephants, many of whom have been rescued from tourist rides and illegal logging camps, only is the beginning for Erica. The 23-year-old Fowlerville, Mich. native hopes to continue working with animals in need after her graduation in 2013.

“I can see myself going wherever the world needs. I find great joy in helping animals that are in need and are lacking means of receiving the care they deserve,” Erica said.

But the elephants always will have a special place in her heart. Seeing the intense bonds they form and their ability to forgive humans for the pain they’ve endured is life-altering, she said.

“When you see an animal that has suffered so much abuse in the hands of humans, and then you see their ability to forgive and trust people again, it is humbling and truly amazing,”Erica said. “So much can be learned by these gentle and wise creatures.”

One of the closest to her heart is a 65-year-old elephant named Mae Tee. A life of logging has left Mae Tee’s joints and feet in rough shape. During Erica’s visit to the park last year, Mae Tee suffered from painful foot abscesses and required foot wrap changes twice a day – equivalent to about eight rolls of Pro-Flex. Lucky for Mae Tee, the care she’s received at the park has greatly helped heal her.

“She is doing so much better now,” Erica said, adding she keeps tabs on the elephants from afar. “I developed a connection with Mae Tee and she found a special place in my heart. I am so thankful she is in such loving and healing hands at the sanctuary.”

Giving back to the park and to the animals that roam its lands is the least she could do for the effect the people and the elephants had on her, Erica said.

“I am really passionate about the park and what they do,” Erica said. “It completely changed my outlook on life and the path I was traveling down as an aspiring veterinarian. I will always cherish the memories from my first encounter with the elephants at Elephant Nature Park. The experience has changed me forever.”

What are elephants used for?

Elephants often are used in logging, an industry that has been illegal in Thailand for decades. Others are used in the tourist industry for elephant rides. Some elephants, such as one of the park’s residents Jokia, worked in both industries. Jokia was beaten so severely she was blinded but was rescued by Lek and now lives a happy life at the park.

What kind of wounds are we talking about?

Eye problems and foot injuries top the list. Through time, exposure to bright sunlight can cause blindness. Injuries to the eye also can result from the elephant scratching its eye with its trunk.

Years of hard labor also take a toll on their feet, especially if they were kept on cement.

They also can suffer skeletal and mental damage from methamphetamines they are given to keep them working long hours.

For more information on the park, visit www.elephantnaturepark.org.

For some press love from Michigan State University’s student paper, The State News, click here.

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