One of the great aspects of Thailand is the way it brings the natural and the man-made close together. For all the swarming mass of humanity and the remarkable cultural, artistic and religious features to be seen, the wildlife of the country is still a must-see. For visitors to Phuket, this is not just about seeing the birds and monkeys playing happily in the trees.
Conservation matters – and a great place to see it in action is at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project Centre. The project was set up in 1992 by Noppadol Preuksawan, the chief of the Royal Forest Department in Phuket, along with chief of the nearby Bang Pae Sub-station Thavrn Sri-Oon and an American Zoologist called Terrance Dillon Morin. The Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand has been supporting it since 1994. It aims to help rehabilitate white-handed gibbons that have been semi-domesticated and enable them to return to the wild.
Many of these creatures have been used as pets and tourist attractions, despite this being a criminal offence, which means the centre has two aims. While rehab is part of its remit, the centre also campaigns to raise awareness of the problem of the ongoing demand for baby gibbons. Indeed, the ultimate aim is the repopulation of the forests of Phuket, where the creatures had been poached to extinction 30 years ago.
For visitors, there is more than just an opportunity to see these wonderful creatures close-up. A visit to the centre also provides a chance to get involved in adoption schemes to support its work, as well as learning what not to do when visiting Thailand. Education is a key part of the centre’s work and while much of this is focused on local villagers, tourists can play their part too. This means refusing offers to be photographed with a baby gibbon should they encounter one and its owner in the street. By doing so, it deprives those peddling the illegal trade in these animals of their ill-gotten gains. Heart-warming and enlightening in equal measure, there are many reasons a trip to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre should be on every Phuket visitor’s itinerary.