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Student uses digital media skills to promote elephant sanctuary

  • Spencer Rohatynski pictured with an elephant at the Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand.

Posted on July 07, 2017

A Grand Valley student recently spent a portion of his summer crafting a piece of his Laker Effect by putting his digital media skills to good use promoting an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.

Spencer Rohatynski, a senior majoring in public relations and multimedia journalism, spent five weeks serving as the digital media coordinator at the Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary, which is located in the Ban Na Klang Village in northern Thailand.

During his internship, Rohatynski created a social media promotional video for the sanctuary and captured photos of the elephants and local village tribe members. The video can be viewed in the media gallery above.

He also taught English to young children in the village’s school and participated in village chores, such as preparing meals, corralling bison and cattle from nearby fields at night, cleaning chicken eggs, and participating in small construction projects.

“I have a huge passion for all things digital, so I found this opportunity to be a tremendous starting point for myself in this field,” Rohatynski said. “Aside from having a love and passion for animals, which I’ve had my whole life, I was really drawn to the main goal of Kindred Spirit, which is to get elephants out of the tourism industry and back into the wild.”

Rohatynski became privy to the sanctuary while participating in a study abroad program in 2016 through Grand Valley’s Padnos International Center called Semester at Sea.

He said working at the Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary was an eye-opening experience.

“Having a 12,000-pound animal resting his trunk on my shoulder, eating out of my hand or watching it run down a hill toward me were some of the most terrifying, yet beautiful experiences I’ve ever had,” he explained. “I was fascinated by the people, too, who were existing with just the essentials, not even running water. 

"The Ban Na Klang tribe live a seemingly happy, peaceful life. Less is more for them, breathing is enough, family is everything and respect and tradition is upheld constantly.”

Reflecting back on his time at the sanctuary, Rohatynski said he feels the work he completed was valuable in many respects.

“First, I was helping raise awareness of the sanctuary and everything they stand for, including the proper treatment of elephants, reforestation, and more education for families who can’t afford it,” he explained. “Second, I was actually putting these beliefs and values into play with teaching English, planting trees, building houses and doing research on the elephants every day. I think the research that was done, and the information we learned during my time, will continue to help in the process of re-introducing elephants back into the wild in Thailand, and hopefully in other places as well.”