30 years ago in Thailand’s southern forest of Khao Phra Thaew the native gibbon was nowhere to be found. Wiped out by illegal poaching for exploitation in the tourism industry, this thriving forest where the sounds of the gibbons call once echoed was now silent to any sign of these small apes.
Fast forward to the year 1992 where the first legislation came through to prohibit all poaching, selling, buying and owning of gibbons in Thailand. This was a start to saving these creatures from extinction however there were still cases of illegal practices reported and unfortunately, even today, these practices continue.
Thankfully there are organisations working to protect these endangered species, and located just outside the Khao Phra Thaew forest itself there is a project working to rehabilitate and release the gibbons back into this forest where they once existed.
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project was founded in 1992 to save the gibbons and their rainforest habitat. Since then the project has released over 30 gibbons back into the forest, including eight families that have reproduced young in the wild. Without the work of the project and its donors this reintroduction would have never been possible and the endangered white-handed gibbon would be even closer to extinction.
Since 1992 the project has released over 30 gibbons back into the forest, including 8 families that have reproduced young in the wild.
The project works to raise worldwide awareness about the consequences that occur when animals are used in the tourism industry. Their main message – do not take photographs with gibbons. Many animals are exploited in Phuket and used as photo props.
Men will approach the tourists in the street for what seems like a harmless photo for a small price. What the tourists don’t know is that for every gibbon you see in the streets that is used as a tourist attraction a whole family has been killed. Poachers will kill the family and take the baby to be raised in captivity, often exposed to harsh living conditions which can involve abuse, starvation and being caged up with not enough space to develop the muscles that they would usually develop to swing off the branches in the forests.
Many of the gibbons that arrive at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project have spent most of their lives in captivity. When the gibbons are brought to the project they are quarantined and examined, and then, if suitable, are moved to the rehabilitation site to socialise with the other gibbons, learn natural behaviors and accommodate to their natural surroundings. If all goes well they are then released into the forest.
In some cases the gibbons have endured such harsh conditions that they will never be able to return to the wild. Tam, one of the projects longest residents, spends her time here at the centre due to an infection, which caused one of her arms and legs to be amputated. The infection was caused by lack of care while in the hands of an illegal trader. She will not be able to survive in the wild but thankfully has a nice home at the centre where she can play and communicate with her friend Bo another Gibbon who, although released, has made his way back here numerous times. Perhaps it’s because he knows he can find food here or perhaps it’s due to his strong friendship with Tam.
If you see any gibbons, or other animals, being used as tourist attractions please report them to authorities. Fill out the projects online contact form or call Thailand’s Ministry of Environment Wildlife Trade Hotline on 1362.
You can visit Tam and Bo, and all the other gibbons that are in rehabilitation here at the project, in the Phuket Khao Phra Thaew National Park located in the northeast of Phuket Island. The project is not-for-profit meaning that all their funds come from donations. There is no entrance fee to visit the gibbons but all donations are welcome.
You can also help the gibbons by purchasing from the site’s shop, adopting a gibbon or volunteering at the centre. Your contribution will go towards the release of more of these wonderful creatures into the wild and ending the cycle of animal exploitation in Thailand.
If you do see any gibbons, or other animals, being used as tourist attractions please report them to authorities. You can fill out the projects online contact form or call Thailand’s Ministry of Environment Wildlife Trade Hotline on 1362.
For more information about the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project or to donate to the important work they do click here.