A Year in Bangkok – Wildlife Rescue

10 09 2010

Hidden away in Petchburi province, just a couple of hours away from Bangkok is a wildlife rescue centre run by the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand. I’m adding them to my blog this week because they need financial help.

Wayo, the recently rescued gibbon.

And it really is hidden! The first time I went there, after turning off the main road between Petchburi and Cha Am, I got lost several times. Actually, that’s not strictly true: I didn’t get lost as I kept returning to the main road and knew almost exactly where I was, it just wasn’t where I wanted to be. I had pretty good directions from Simon, who managed the volunteering side of the organization but now runs another rescue centre in Indonesia which was taken over by WFFT. I have been a number of times since then and only got lost seventeen times! It is kind of behind a temple, in the temple grounds and is a lovely location.

Rescued gibbons in a decent sized enclosure.

They have just been out to Ratchaburi to rescue a White Handed Gibbon being kept in a 2.5m x 1.5m cage. These magnificent animals need space! Visiting Thailand’s national parks, I often hear them up in the tree canopy and it is a wonderful sound but I have hardly ever seen them. Maybe that is how it should be.

A Lar Gibbon where it should be! Blurry image as its full zoom on my cheap point and shoot.

This gibbon, named Weyo, has been kept as a pet for 12 years and therefore has no idea how to fend for herself. She is now in a solitary cage in the jungle at the rescue centre for a quarantine period. Once that is over, she will be introduced to Gee, a male White Handed Gibbon of a similar age who is also new to the rescue centre. It is hoped that they will be able to become friends and share an enclosure.

Gibbons on an island just outside the rescue centre, being prepared for release.

The really sad thing is that Weyo is the last gibbon that WFFT rescues until the financial situation improves. Each rescue is expensive and there is currently no funding for the Mobile Rescue Clinic.

A rescued bear enjoys its new life.

A rescued bear enjoys its new life.

That’s just one story. Each of the 350+ animals here has a similar story. For instance, they have a tiger here called Miaow. He was rescued from a petrol station where he was an attraction for the customers. He was fed the wrong diet as a cub so his bone structure hasn’t formed properly and he was declawed to make him ‘safe’. Now he can never be returned to the wild, but he has as natural a home as possible in the rescue centre. A guy I know who runs a lovely boutique hotel used to work there and was Miaow’s principle carer. He once told me taking Miaow for a swim was when you knew he was a proper tiger and was really quite dangerous.

Miaow

Tourists are a major cause of wild animal abuse here. For instance, there is a huge problem on Koh Samui (but not only there) where exotic animals are used as photo props for the tourists. Dozens of animals are paraded on the streets there every day. Usually, these animals are taken from the jungle when they are babies. To catch them, the poachers kill their mothers and any other members of their families that might cause a problem. The animals are then drugged to keep them placid for the photos.

This iguana is no longer a drugged-out photographer's prop.

WFFT has rescued several such animals, but this needs a lot of planning, funding and help from the police – the owners of the animals often turn violent when confronted. The trouble is, as soon as an animal is rescued from its owner, they just go out and buy another gibbon, or iguana, or sea eagle, or whatever. They will continue doing this as long as there is a demand from tourists. If enough of us refuse to have our photos taken with animals, then there will be no financial incentive and the animals will no longer be used in this way. Simple innit?

Andie the Great Hornbill.

One of the first animals you would notice here was Andie, a female Great Hornbill but, sadly, Andie died in May this year. I always thought she was a wonderful sight as she foraged for any food which had dropped underneath the primate cages. Funnily enough, the only other place I have seen a hornbill close up was near here, at Kaeng Krachan national park. A couple who live on the edge of the park have befriended a pair of hornbills which come out of the forest to them when called.

Elephants rescued from the city streets.

WFFT is almost ten years old and, in my view, is a well managed and effective organization. As well as the little bits I have mentioned here, they run an elephant refuge and education centre, a gibbon rehabilitation and release programme, a gibbon release and research centre, a bear sanctuary, a loris rehab centre and release programme, a wildlife hospital and mobile wildlife clinic, a marine research and rescue unit and a reforestation programme with its own tree nursery – certainly of interest to an ex-forester such as myself.

A rescued dusky (or spectacled) langur which I noticed on my last visit to the centre.

WFFT’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and care for wildlife that has been exploited by people or otherwise come into human conflict and to raise awareness and concern for wildlife and its habitat in Thailand and Southeast Asia. You can contribute to them using Paypal via their website at www.wfft.org/donate

Pai enjoys a shower.

For now, Weyo is adjusting to her new life, in a large and natural environment, with the potential of a mate and a full rehabilitation. With your help, they can continue to rescue abused animals like Weyo. Their website is www.wfft.org

Please note that many of the photos in this post belong to WFFT.

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