Gibbon project needs help
PHUKET: A large gibbon swinging in a cage in the rehabitation area at the back starts a loud drawn-out mournful call and was soon joined with other patient gibbons there, a cacophony that would normally echo triumphantly in the jungle.
Friday 17 June 2011, 02:25AM
Veterinarian Suwit “Tum” Punnadee, director of the Gibbon Rehabititation Project, sits back in the backyard of his office near the Khao Phra Taew Non-hunting Area and looks in their direction with a smile. It’s all familiar music to his ears.
The centre he has run for some years, funded privately from donations without any government funding and manned by small staff and local and international volunteers, has rehabilitated in total some 68 gibbons, mostly of the white-handed species.
There are 12 gibbons in large individual cages in the hospital quarantine area at the back of the streetside office. In the half-way house cages on the steep bamboo hills near the Bang Pae Waterfall are 33 other gibbons, awaiting their turn to be released into the tall forest of the national reserve that they can see from their big cages.
Some 23 have been released into the national reserve deep at the back of the waterfall.
So where did these gibbons come from?
“From Phuket province alone, we don’t have enough cages and facility take care of them,” the vet said.
Many of the gibbons started life as babies taken around tourist areas to be photographed for money for the owners, or kept as pets, eventhough it is against the law to be so kept.
As the apes grow fangs, they become unmanageable and bite their owners. So they are given away to the Forestry Department, temples and usually end up at the centre.
Being territorial, they need to be housed in individual cages to prevent fighting and even killing each other. They are not released into the wild until they form pairs and often have young so they would stay put in the reserve and not wander off.
So their stay in care can be for years. Some can not be released at all because of injury and mental stress.
From the accommodation quarters for volunteers comes Richard Billington from the UK who has volunteered here for some six months.
He says he loves it here and plans to come back. He has been looking after “Emily”, the cutest three-week-old baby that was rejected by its mother and had to be bottle-fed every three hours.
School groups also come to volunteer. Help just for the day or the weekend is welcome and training and accommodation are provided for longer stay.
The animals are fed vegetables in the morning and fruits in the afternoon. A gibbon’s lifespan is 30 years, but in captivity they can live up to 50 years.
This centre is the only one in Thailand that has successfully rehabilitated families of gibbons back to the forest where these families continue to breed. However, the project struggles with the high-costs involved in the lengthy care of each gibbon, claiming it costs tens of thousands of baht each month to care for them.
The centre has managed to be mostly self-sufficient but when donations dry up, the parent body, the Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand, has to top up funds.
For further information on the centre visit gibbonproject.org.
- Norachai Thavisin