Tag Archives: conservation

Wildchild (#16, #17)


I’ve spent the past couple of weeks working at a wildlife hospital. It was a fairly long drive to make, but everyday I would park my car amongst the trees and step out to the faint smell of bushfire in the air, and that made it all worthwhile. This was a not-for-profit wildlife rehabilitation center that was run entirely by volunteers. I would admit any injured wildlife that was brought in, assess them and treat them to the best of my abilities, and refer to a private veterinary hospital if it was a case I could not handle, or if the patient required further diagnostic work-up (radiographs etc), or surgery. As there was no on-site vet, the onus of making decisions regarding treatment plans and euthanasia considerations often fell on me. This was both good and bad because it forced me to be more decisive and to have more confidence in the clinical decisions I made, but also meant a lot of sleepless nights worrying about possible misdiagnoses, and that I wasn’t really learning as much as I could have because there would be no senior vet there to correct me if I were wrong. I spent some days in the lab looking at faecal samples with a microbiologist, and others rushing around the hospital administering treatments and euthanising patients with very poor prognoses. All in all I think I learnt a fair bit, and feel like I have made a minor but practical contribution towards wildlife and conservation. It was also really good for me mentally, I think, to take a step back from my usual high-stress environment and re-connect with the side of medicine that I love.


I’ve been spending all my free time (and also time I probably could not afford) hiking, camping, star gazing and climbing over the past few weeks. I have learnt to not let a lack of company stop me from doing the things I love, and to care less about what people might think of me – because chances are they probably don’t think of me at all.  I’ve been taking myself out for hikes and stopping my car to watch beautiful sunsets. I’ve been pushing my comfort zones and forcing myself into situations that require me to socialise with new people. And I think I am getting better at it – or getting better at not hating it. It is back to the daily grind of rotations and exams and I am as behind on sleep as I am with my studies. My muscles are sore, my finger tips are bleeding, my shoes are caked with dirt but my heart is a bit more full than it was before.



Fickle Friday #3 – Birds


I’ve spent the past couple of weeks interning at the bird park in Singapore (which is basically a zoo, but with only birds). It has been incredibly eye opening and I think I have truly gained some very valuable insight into avian medicine- seeing as we probably had only half a dozen or so lectures dedicated to birds out of the past 4 years of studying. I’ve always been interested in exotic and conservation medicine, but will realistically end up working in a small animal practice treating dogs and cats. We have to decide by this year what we’d like to stream into for our final year and I am at a total loss as to what to do.

Life as an exotic vet is never dull, in the 2 weeks I’ve been here I’ve worked with vultures and other birds of prey, penguins, flamingoes and an array of other interesting feathered friends big and small.

It’s really interesting because they come in such different sizes and morphologies: what works in a finch may be totally inappropriate for a pelican or an eagle. There wasn’t a single surgery though, which is very different from my experience of working in a general practice. I find that there is also less problem solving because they are all the same species, at the end of the day.

What I most enjoy about a job like this is that there is minimal human interaction- you don’t have try to save a life within a measly budget and you certainly don’t have to try to convince someone that your years of veterinary medical knowledge might just trump their Google search. I decided I wanted to become a vet when I was 9 because I preferred animals to people. Little did I know that being a vet is 60% client interaction and 40% medical science.

I don’t know what I’ll decide to do- there is a war within my head and I am not eager to place any bets.

Today’s song is Birds by Kate Nash.


Goblins and Third-eyes


The Goblin Shark is a deep-sea fish commonly dubbed as the “ugliest shark int the world”. It’s beady eyes set in pink, flabby flesh is due to the fact that minimal light reaches the depths (1200m!) it dwells in; it therefore relies on it’s other senses to source for food, like the ampullae of Lorenzini and it’s somatosensory system. Prey include crustaceans, fish as well as cephalopods. Growing up to 11 feet in length, it’s most distinguishing features would have to be it’s protruding snout which enable it to search muddy floor banks, and an extensive jaw. The tight muscles that normally hold the goblin shark’s jaw shut are relaxed when the shark approaches its prey. When the jaw muscles are relaxed, the shark’s jaw shoots forward in an open position. The goblin shark then catches its prey in its jaws, snaps them shut and quickly draws its food back into its mouth where shorter, flatter teeth at the back of the shark’s mouth are used to break it down.
(Click on the gif/ first image to see it in action, if it isn’t self-loading- it really is an amazing clip.)

Endemic to New Zeland, the Tuatara is a prehestoric reptile in the likeness of a lizard. In fact, many species in the Order Sphenodontia lived during the Triassic and Jurassic period, but today, the Tuatara is the only surviving Genus in that Order. What most fascinates me, is the presence of a third-eye at the top of the reptile’s skull (See second picture). This eye is not simply metaphorical but truly an eyeball with it’s own lens and retina, covered by a thin layer of scales. Not much is known about the parietal eye, but it is thought to be thought to be involved in the setting of circadian and seasonal cycles, as well as the sensing of light. And it gets stranger: parietal eyes are present also in frogs, fish and lizards, whereas residue of it are found in some birds and mammals. The next time you order frog leg soup, observe the top of the bullfrog’s head and you may just see the small grey oval that is it’s third-eye. Bon appetit! tuatara250px-Anolis_carolinensis_parietal_eyeThese are just some interesting animals I have (fairly) recently learnt about and had been wanting to write about. Maybe I will do more animal posts, since I still have the time to (try to) be interesting. I think the more we learn about how amazing our world is, the less need we feel to bother ourselves with talks of war and politics, and hopefully people will start treating our Earth and nature the way it deserves to be treated- like something really worth fighting for. I hope everyone is well, have a beautiful day. (:




Hi guys, I haven’t been blogging recently because I had taken on a temp-full time job working in an office. After spending 9am to 6pm- or sometimes 12 hour shifts, depending on how strong my need to feel productive is- staring at a computer and putting up with arrogant CEOs, the last thing I wanted to do was to come home and stare at a screen again, or to use my brain at all, really. But I’m finished with most of the work I’m going to get in this holidays. Now I’ll actually try to treat my summer break as a break.

A few weeks ago, I was on a family trip to Phuket, Thailand, and I got reminded to finally post about something I felt strongly for. Elephants. And I’m sorry if this reads more academic rather than casual, but I had done a presentation in ethics class on the subject, so for once, a serious post.

The Elephant is Thailand’s national animal, being inextricably linked with Thai tradition and culture. So much so that in 1998 the government of the day ordered that March 13th would be recognized as being Thai Elephant Day. Besides being simply beasts of burden, elephants were greatly loved and honoured. Their image are emblazoned on coins, talismans and temple. In 1989 , however, the Thai Government banned logging in an attempt to conserve forest land, which had been falling at an average of 59 000 ha every year, resulting in 70% of Thailand’s domesticated elephants unemployment. Some owners turn to illegal logging while others took them to cities to become “street elephants”, where the mahouts (elephant trainers) can obtain money by begging; To the average holidaymaker, US$1.50 for a picture, a hug and perhaps even to sit atop the back of an adorable elephant, is a small price to pay. Other elephants were drafted into the entertainment industry. In my numerous trips to Thailand, I have on separate occasions, watched elephants dance, paint, been beaten, forced to copulate, and carry loads too heavy with a nourishment too lacking, in the name of For our entertainment.


I had an incredibly hard time trying to practice responsible ecotourism during my recent family trip. The itinerary offered to us involved visiting a “Monkey Training School” where monkeys were caught from the wild and forced to learn how to don cute little outfits and dance, a “Tiger-petting zoo” where, likewise, wild endangered tiger cubs were brought in, drugged up and forced to sit still for 12 hours a day, “Elephant trekking” or “Horse riding”. I picked horse riding in the end, because horses aren’t endangered, and the horses were not showing any signs of neglect. By definition, ecotourism is the “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” A common outcry when asked not to support the elephant (or any endangered species really) industry is “But if we don’t give them our money, then the elephants will die for sure! They won’t have food!” But perhaps I tend to always take a utilitarian stand, if you don’t support the industry, perhaps the elephants already in captivity may suffer, but if you do support it, there is reason to continue it, to bring in more elephants until the last one is dead, too.

Being a developing country, the obtainment and training of entertainment elephants is both legally and ethically questionable. Typically, poachers routinely kill mother elephants in order to steal and break in their young. All domestic young elephants go through a breaking in ritual termed “phajaan”. An elephant is placed in a crush and starved and beaten for weeks to break it’s spirit and learn obedience. Any noncompliance resultsin a stab in the foot or in the inner ear (the most sensitive part of the elephant). A phajaan stick is an arm-length pole with a metal hook tied to it’s end. The hook is repeatedly flung at the elephant’s body and forced in to break through the mammal’s thick hide. The Phajaan is a brutal ritual that no words can describe, so I have instead, just substituted a video for your viewing (dis)pleasure.

Why not reintroduce the elephants to the wild? “There is not enough space in Thailand, or anywhere in south or Southeast Asia for releases,” says Asian elephant expert Dr. Richard Lair. “Too bad, because well over half would probably adapt quite well.” The few thousand elephants that remain truly wild live in disconnected nature preserves and mountaintops around the country, and males are still massacred for their ivory tusks which, up to today, are still being smuggled for a hefty price.47663_10151226716148161_476035665_n

There are many stakeholders involved, and being an integral part of society, I do not think the elephant trade should be totally eradicated from the Thai society. While the people in the trade may control input in terms of increasing training and education of stockmen and handlers and ensuring proper housing for their elephants, change in the area is the least likely. The Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act of 1992 should be comprehensively amended to include specific legislative provisions relating to the control of internal and international trade in live elephants and other elephant products. But politics aside, the biggest power lies in the hand of the consumer. Ensure to only buy products, visit and support elephant conservation centers rather than commercial entertainment ground, as well as spread awareness. Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the principles of minimizing impact, while providing direct financial benefits for conservation and the empowerment of local people. And of course, education is always key to moving forward. Whilst in Thailand, I saw wild elephants roaming the mountains, and elephants shackled to the porches of shop-houses with barely 2x2m of standing area. Do you part in raising sensitivity to the host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.

Today, nearly 300 elephants still beg on the streets of Bangkok, a booming metropolis. By day, mahouts hide the elephants outside of town. At night, elephants plod along crowded freeways to get to tourism central. Some beg illegally, while many others work in entertainment and tourism — the only legal use of domesticated elephants in Thailand today. Elephants carry people on rides, dance and perform in shows. I hope this post may change even just a single person’s perspective on how animals in the entertainment industry are trained to such perfection instead of being caught up in the thrill of it all. A very easy tip is to always scrutinize an animal for wounds or scars, or to watch how they are treated behind the scenes, before lending your support. If everyone knew the pain invested into these animals, I think the situation might be different.


Here are a few petitions you can sign if you would rather be passive aggressive from the comfort of your home- even that makes a difference. If not, this is a very interesting topic to be talking about with your friends; What you say can impact someone’s decision.

Help Lek Save Elephants: A local woman’s effort in challenging the ruthlessness of tradition.

To the Thai Government: To step up and take action.