Grand Blanc View

MSU student returns from work with elephants

Hands full of bananas, Maria feeds one of the elephants she cared for on her trip. Photos provided

Hands full of bananas, Maria feeds one of the elephants she cared for on her trip. Photos provided

GRAND BLANC — This summer, resident Maria Berry, 19, spent two weeks in Thailand helping animals and learning hands-on what it’s like to be a veterinarian. Traveling with studyabroad organization Loop Abroad, Berry 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.

The Veterinary Service program brings students to Thailand for two weeks to volunteer alongside veterinarians from the US and Thailand. For one week, Berry and her team volunteered at an elephant sanctuary outside of 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. Berry 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 Berry.

An example of the cuddlier type of patient Maria took care of on her trip.

An example of the cuddlier type of patient Maria took care of on her trip.

For the other week, Berry 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 she studied under the veterinarians leading her group, Berry 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 as well as gain valuable, real-life experience.

Of her trip, Berry says, “This trip was genuinely life-changing! We were able to work with elephant vets and learn about elephant medicine. Working with elephants was so humbling! We also practiced clinical skills in small animal medicine. This experience was enriching, and it brought to light the struggles of Asian Elephants and other animals overseas.”

Berry is a sophomore at Michigan State University, majoring in Microbiology. By following a study abroad model instead of a voluntourism model, Loop Abroad focuses on educating its students so they can contribute and serve in meaningful ways. It also works with locally run animal welfare organizations so 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, “This is our tenth summer of providing engaging field courses around the globe, and we continue to be so impressed by our students and their eagerness to learn about the world around them and have a lasting, positive impact. By partnering with locally-run, leading conservation organizations, we help our students to learn from the experts and to understand the connection of conservation and culture, and we’re always so proud to see what they go on to do after their study abroad experience.”

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 Admission to veterinary programs is selective and Berry was selected based on her transcript, admissions essay, and professional references. — P.S.