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Chelsea Bandy Travels to Thailand and Australia to Work with Elephants and Wildlife

This summer, Chelsea Bandy, 20, of Commerce Township, Michigan, spent a month in Thailand and Australia helping animals and learning hands-on what it’s like to be a veterinarian. Traveling with study-abroad organization Loop Abroad, Chelsea was selected as part of a small team that volunteered giving care at a dog shelter, and spent a week working directly with rescued elephants at an elephant sanctuary, and spent two weeks studying veterinary medicine with wildlife in Australia.

The Veterinary Service program brings students to Thailand for two weeks to volunteer alongside veterinarians from the US and Thailand. For one week, Chelsea and her team volunteered at an elephant sanctuary outside Chiang Mai, Thailand to work with the giant animals and learn about animal rescue and conservation on a larger scale.

The elephants at the sanctuary have been rescued from trekking, logging, or forced breeding programs. Many of them had been abused and suffer from chronic injuries or blindness. At the elephant sanctuary, they are cared for by volunteers from all over the world. Chelsea helped to feed and care for elephants, as well as learn about their diagnoses alongside an elephant vet. The sanctuary is also home to over 1,000 animals, including cats, dogs, water buffalo, horses, and cows, and is sustained in huge part by the work of weekly volunteers like Chelsea.

Chelsea volunteered at a dog rescue clinic in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The shelter is home to dogs who have been rescued after being abandoned, beaten, or abused. While the dogs can be adopted, any who aren’t will be cared for by one of the local shelters for their whole lives.

While she studied under the veterinarians leading her group, Chelsea and her team made a difference in the lives of these dogs. By providing check-ups and cleanings, diagnosing and treating ear and eye problems, taking and testing blood, administering vaccines, cleaning and treating wounds, and helping with sterilization surgeries, the students were able to help support the health and well-being of these dogs.

Chelsea also spent two weeks in Australia working through Loop Abroad with Walkabout Wildlife Park. Chelsea and her team took a course in Australian Wildlife Handling, Conservation, and Care so that they could be better equipped to study and help support the animals at Walkabout.

The focus of the program is on learning from veterinarians, conservationists, and animal experts so that the volunteers can bring this experience and cross-cultural learning to their veterinary studies.

The facility where they work helps to care for animals in need, to conserve local wild space, and to breed endangered animals such as quolls in breeding programs that can help to ensure the safe release of such animals and help their species numbers increase. The veterinary service program helps to support these efforts and provide medical care and zoo enrichment to the animals at the facility, while providing students like Chelsea with an education in zoo and wildlife medicine techniques.

Chelsea and her team provided care for the animals at Walkabout, including feedings, health checks, enrichments, and routine care. The facility is home to kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, echidnas, koalas, dingos, quolls, wombats, possums, flying foxes, pythons, turtles, kookaburras, and a number of other species of mammals, reptiles, and birds. Of course, there are wild snakes and spiders too!

By following a study abroad model instead of a voluntourism model, Loop focuses on educating its students so that they can contribute and serve in meaningful ways. It also works with locally run animal welfare organizations so that students contribute to long-term improvement on the ground in the countries they visit. With programs in Thailand, South Africa, Australia, and the Amazon and Galapagos, Loop Abroad is able to support animal welfare and conservation around the world because of its students and their dedication to helping animals in need.

The program’s Managing Director Jane Stine says, “Our students are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. They are kind, compassionate, dedicated, hard-working individuals who have big goals and want to make a big impact. It’s amazing to see how eager they are to learn and challenge themselves. Over the last nine years, we’ve seen them go on to do some wonderful things.”

Loop Abroad has animal science, marine biology, and veterinary programs for students and young adults age 14 to 30, and offers financial aid and fundraising help. Programs range from two weeks in summer to a full semester abroad, and college credit is available. Interested participants can inquire or apply at www.LoopAbroad.com. Admission to veterinary programs is selective and Chelsea was selected based on her transcript, admissions essay, and professional references.

Of her trip, Chelsea says, “It was a different world as I stepped off the plane. I work with Michigan wildlife at home, but animals in Australia hop and waddle instead of walk and run. It was an interesting experience to learn about these unique marsupials from people that handle them on a daily basis.”

Chelsea is a senior at Michigan State University, majoring in Zoology.