CRANFORD, NJ — There aren’t many elephants or water buffalo to care for in Cranford, so Samantha Colucci travelled 8,556 miles to get close to them.
The Cranford resident is a second year student at Michigan State University studying animal science; she took an intensive two-week veterinary service trip to the city of Chiang Mai in a mountainous northern region of Thailand to tend to exotic animals as part of the Loop Program.
“I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, but going to Thailand and being up close and personal with the elephants, dogs, cats, and other animals reassured what I want my career to be,” Colucci told LocalSource on Oct. 7.
The Loop Program is a competitive program that provides students with the opportunity to work alongside locally run animal welfare organizations.
According to the program’s website, its aim is to achieve long-term improvements and student contributions on the grounds of the countries where participants visit.
Programs are paired in Thailand, South Africa and Australia, and the program strives to support animal welfare and conservation around the world.
During Colucci’s stay alongside a group of aspiring veterinarians, from July 15 to 31, she spent time volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park and Animal Rescue Kingdom Foundation, a local a shelter for more than 100 dogs, located just outside Chiang Mai.
The preserve serves as habitat to a collective of 1,000 animals, including horses, cats, dogs, water buffalo and different types of cattle.
The program provides the professional presence of both American and Thai veterinarians, who showed Colucci and group how to medically care for animals.
During her time there, Colucci learned to treat and care for injured animals who had been neglected or mistreated.
She performed a multitude of tasks and cared for a wide range of animals during her time, cleaning bandages and wounds, giving dogs fluids, watching a cat being spayed and learning how to remove stitches.
She also conducted physical exams on cats, dogs and horses, and tended to elephants by cleaning and bandaging wounds on their legs and faces.
“Caring for the elephants was truly remarkable,” Colucci said. “Being able to get up close and personal with the elephants was something that I have always dreamed of doing.”
Colucci described her experience as rewarding because the animals treated were able to live a revitalized life in the park.
“I was grateful for the opportunity to be having a positive impact on these animals and giving the care they needed to live a long and happy life at the park,” Colucci said. “Volunteering my services to the Elephant Nature Park changed who I am in a positive way because I was able to save elephants from continuing a life of abuse and torture.”
Following her time at the preserve, Colucci learned imperative clinical skills at the Animal Rescue Kingdom outside Chiang Mai.
“I monitored diseases, treated skin wounds, administered and monitored amnesia, participated in neuter and spay surgeries, and handled patient recovery after these surgeries,” she said.
While the program equipped Colucci with some of the skills necessary to veterinarians, it also presented her with new experiences, fostering a deep appreciation for Thailand’s culture, people and environment.
“I have travelled abroad before to France and Spain, however Thailand is a culture and environment that does not compare,” Colucci said.
“The people in Thailand were welcoming and every person I met was someone who was open to talk about their life and share their experiences with my group.”