Looking for something to do for the day, we scoured the Internet for activities on Phuket that would be an educational outing for our children. After crossing a few things off of our short list for being too expensive we came across the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center, a non-profit society that rescues gibbons from poachers and from the tourist trade and works to rehabilitate them with the hope that one day they will be successfully reintroduced to the wild.
As soon as we pulled into the parking lot we could hear the gibbons calling out to one another. The whooping, cheerful calls were enchanting. I’m including my very unprofessional video that we filmed for our learning circle so you can hear it too!
Here is what we learned today:
The only way for a gibbon to be captured and successfully domesticated is for the poacher to find a baby gibbon and then to kill the mother and take the baby. We were told that for every baby gibbon that is successfully captured, nine more are killed in the process from falling out of the tree when the mother is shot. The ones who survive are caged and sold as pets.
Because gibbons are so intelligent and so incredibly cute, most of them are purchased by people in the tourist industry and as a money maker. They are trained to pose for pictures with tourists, serve drinks in bars, and any number of other things unbecoming of a wild animal. Tourists are contributing to the perpetuation of poaching these creatures by participating in and taking photographs of this exploitation.
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Center in Phuket rescues these poor primates from their ‘owners’ with the goal of re-release back into the wild. Not all of the gibbons will be successfully rehabilitated, some are too far-gone and are too reliant on humans for their survival. These are the ones that you can see at the center, but you cannot get up close to them. Unlike zoos, the goal is to have the least contact possible with people. You cannot feed the gibbons, touch them, get your picture taken with them, or even use flash photography.
The gibbons that are being successfully rehabilitated are completely out of site from the visitor, as it should be. Local staff and volunteers do their best to mimic their natural environment by using very large enclosures, pairing the monkeys, and having the enclosures close to each other so that they can talk to and groom their friends.
Food is not just handed to them; it is wrapped in leaves or stuffed inside bamboo so that the gibbons can get a feel for foraging for themselves. After a while the gibbons that are successfully rehabilitated will stop taking food from the staff and will instead begin to forage. This is when the staff knows that a gibbon is ready to be released into the wild.
The center runs entirely on donations. Their average monthly cost of the operation is approximately $3000. Having visited the center first hand we feel we can recommend it as being worthy of your support if it interests you. If you would like to donate to this very worthy project you can do so at http://www.gibbonproject.org . You can even choose to “adopt” a gibbon and be financially responsible for its care until it is released into the wild!
At then end of the day we were very happy that we invested our time to see the work being done here. It was a much better use of our money than the admission to a zoo and we feel great for knowing that in a small way we have contributed to helping to rescue these beautiful creatures.