Traveling with kids means also making sure that they learn more about the world around them, there are a lot of fun things to do but there are also big problems in the world that they should understand better. Today was a learning experience and they loved it!
Up in the Northeast of Phuket in a heavily forested area is the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park and the Bang Pae waterfall. In this park is the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, an organization whose main goal is to save Gibbons and after rehabilitating and educating them send them back into the wild. Gibbon poaching is a big problem in Phuket, and although there is a law since 1992 “Wild Animal Preservation and Protection Act”, that prohibits to take Gibbons from the wild and is illegal to own one as a pet unless proven that it is born in captivity, they are still taken as pets or for tourism, and they are paraded around tourist bars. If you decide to take a picture with a Gibbon you are going against the law and helping these people to push gibbons to extinction.
There are a few interesting facts about them that make this situation even more dramatic, when poaching a Gibbon, what they want to capture is the baby. Well, the baby for the first 2 years of his life lives attached to his/her mother, so in order to catch the baby they kill the mother, unfortunately once the mother falls from the tree the baby ends up dieing as well. So in order to capture one baby, who knows how many they end up killing before. Once these babies reach sexual maturity at 6 or 7 years old they develop large canines and become aggressive. This is the age when they are usually beaten, abandoned, killed or have their teeth removed and confined to a cage. The owner will then move on to a new baby that will be easier to handle with tourists.
When a gibbon comes to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project it receives a medical check, undergoes blood tests for various diseases and is then placed in a quarantine area. Before gibbons are ready for release they are put through a long rehabilitation program. This involves putting them through a series of environments, which encourages their natural behaviours and provides them with the opportunity to practice brachiating, eating natural foods and having minimum contact with humans.
The project has reintroduced 32 gibbons to the wild. Around half of them have successfully adapted to their newfound freedom and 15 babies have been born wild so far. Most of the gibbons rescued, however, suffer from physical damage or mental trauma and must stay in the shelter for the rest of their lives.
The Gibbons that are being kept in large cages. Some are close together so the gibbons can be social, some gibbons are paired together. Gibbons swing around and sing their distinctive song. We were lucky to have change to hear it while we were there and it was very very loud! Each cage also has a little more story of each Gibbon, so we were able to get to know more of each one of them. For example Tam has one hand and one foot missing due to mistreatment by his “owner”. In fact once he was older he became aggressive and the owner reacted violently and then didn’t take care of the Gibbon so after suffering blood poisoning they had to amputate hand and foot. He will never be able to go back in the wild.
Then there is Bo, who had been successfully rehabilitated and was paird with Lek, once they had a baby they were placed in the wild, but Bo kept on leaving his family and coming back to the shelter, so after the sixth time they realized that he wasn’t able to stay in the wild. His baby on the other hand grew up and had a baby so Bo is now a grandfather and this family is successfully living in the wild.
As a privately funded foundation, the GRP always welcomes donations, they accept via Pay Pal, by bank transfer, or in cash at the donation boxes at the project site. We decided to make a donation as well as purchase a toy Gibbon and some other products in order to help this amazing organization, we have so much respect for all the people that volunteer their time and care for this project.
If you are ever in Phuket and see Gibbons being used illegal email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org, lets spread the word!
Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
104/3 Moo 3 Paklock, Thalang, Phuket (about 10km east of the Heroine’s Monument on Route 4027)
T: (076) 260 491
I’m not sharing any photos of the Gibbons, except the toy one that came home with us, named after Gibby one of the Gibbons we saw at the shelter, for respect of these animals but I’m giving you a taste of the beautiful area they live in!