Student returns from Thailand trip

Black Mountain News

Anna Evans, a rising junior at Owen High School, spent two weeks in Thailand starting in late June working with rescued elephants.  The 16-year-old is passionate about domestic animals and wildlife, especially elephants. And now that she's back, she wants to become a veterinarian more now than ever.

Anna participated in a high school veterinary service program called Loop Abroad, which took her to northern Thailand to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai.  The program is for students 14- to 18-year-old students who want to become veterinarians or work professionally with animals.  The Black Mountain News previously wrote about Anna's trip June. 2.

Anna Evans found the work at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai to be a lot harder than she thought it was going to be.

Anna, who had never traveled abroad before, was excited about learning about elephants and a new culture

"Working with the elephants and stray dogs and cats from the area was more hands-on and more 'learning by doing' than I thought it would be,” she said  “During the first week at the elephant park, it was obvious how messed up mentally, emotionally and physically most of the elephants were.  Some were scared.  They had been used as labor in the logging industry, and some had been used for street begging.

"Some of the little elephants who weren’t old enough to be away from their mothers were turned into cute beggars. It was so much more sad and traumatic being there and working with them rather than just reading about it.”

Anna cleaned wounds, took animal skin tests and learned other medical procedures. She made rice balls laced with medications for the older elephants.

“They would take the mixture right from your hand,” she said. “I was a little afraid at first, but we stayed together as a group and listened to what the elephant handlers said.  When we first arrived one of the baby elephants chased us.  It was cute but frightening at the same time.”

Evans said her two weeks stay in Thailand was exhausting.

“There were nine girls in my group, and we were all about the same age,” she said.  “There were other people at the elephant park spending vacations to work with the elephants.  We cleaned the elephants and shoveled elephant poop daily. It was hard physical work. Some of the elephants had severe wounds, like missing parts of a leg, and we cleaned those wounds daily.”

The high school veterinarian program consisted of working for two weeks with on-site veterinarians to take care of rescued dogs and elephants.  The dogs were at the ARK (Animal Rescue Kingdom) Dog shelter in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The Elephant Nature Park provides a natural environment for elephants, dogs, cats, buffaloes and numerous other animals.

“There was a lot of work to do, and all of it educational and hands-on,” Anna said.

She said she learned things about herself that she never expected to learn on the trip.

“I learned that situations are a lot deeper than they seem with many different aspects,” she said.  “I also learned I am actually capable of sitting still for 12 hours at a stretch on a plane.  The entire trip took 19 hours, and it was long.  I found the Thai food and teas to be really spicy. I enjoyed the dessert of sticky rice with mango.  Meat to eat was not allowed at the elephant park.  They are pro-life for all animals and do not slaughter animals for food. I lost 15 pounds in two weeks.

“It was a challenging trip that I would repeat any time.  The most challenging part of it was being in a strange environment, and working with strangers.  The girls in my group had to really depend on each other every day.  We are staying in contact and talk daily.  We made Thai friends and are keeping up with each other on Facebook.”

Anna said the heat was hard to handle with high temperatures and rain nearly every day.

“My hair was the only part of me that enjoyed the heat,” she said.  “I took three showers a day, and my skin felt like I was roasting.  I did worry about the Zika virus since there were so many mosquitoes.  One girl did get sick from a mosquito bite, but we don’t think it was Zika.  I was amazed at how large the insects were.  One beetle out of the forest was the size of a saucer.”

Susan Evans, Anna’s mother, said the trip to the Thailand was definitely a good investment for her daughter.

“The trip for Anna was expensive and over my budget, costing more than $5,000,” Evans said.  “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I really believe will continue to mold and shape her into who she is meant to become, and she’s already an amazing kid.  It was a learning/working trip with some recreation.

"She gained experience in international travel and was able to expand her knowledge of the world and cultures. She also made some personal and professional connections that I believe will serve her well in the future.  She met like-minded teenagers who are now her kindred spirits and formed bonds that will last a lifetime.”

Anna believes her trip to the elephant park was one in which she made a difference.

“I volunteered my time and energy to help the animals, and that is important,” she said.  “I learned that I am a whole lot tougher than I thought, and that I can make decisions on my own."

One thing she's decided is what she'd like to do next.

"I would like to study in Africa and work in a cheetah rescue program, or a rhino rescue program.”