|Rescued gibbon Bambam & her baby Peepo at GRP|
Cuddly slow lorises and gibbons can be seen every day on the streets and beaches of Phuket, carried by touts who let tourists take photos with the animals…for a fee. But the creatures being touted are far from loveable pets – gibbons and slow lorises are the victims of a vicious poaching and smuggling trade that have so drastically reduced their wild populations in Thailand that both are listed as highly endangered on CITES.
|Photo prop gibbon in a Patong Beach bar|
The photo-prop trade has been banned for years but yet it still thrives as weak enforcement lets poachers and touts easily evade arrest, while Thailand’s growing tourism industry continues to bring in ever more customers.
Lack of awareness is a big problem, and on that front the non-profit Gibbon Rehabilitation Project on Phuket has made strong efforts to both educate travellers on the dark side of animal photo props and in rescuing gibbons, slow lorises and other animals from the abusive trade. Since the GRP launched in 1992, 32 gibbons have been reintroduced and around half of them have adapted to life in the wild. Of these successfully rescued and released gibbons, 15 babies have been born wild so far.
|Rescued slow loris named Jora|
Positive steps have also been taken within the travel industry, most notably when STA Travel, a major youth-oriented travel company in the UK, announced in May 2014 that it would no longer book elephant riding and other tours deemed harmful to animals.
|Rescued gibbon Phi Phi|
In Thailand, the Gibbon Project urges people who witness photo props or other questionable animal tourism activities in action to report it to the Department of National Parks, and details how to do so on its website.
We all love sharing our travel adventures, but it would be wise to think before you shoot, and understand before you upload, the true cost of capturing that moment with an enchanting animal.
Many thanks to Petra Osterberg, Primatologist and Gibbon Rehabilitation Project volunteer, and Phamon Samphanthamit, GRP Manager, for supplying the photos that appear with this article.
For more info contact the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project:
104/3 Moo 3 Paklock, Thalang, Phuket
Tel: +66 76 260 491
This article first appeared in the January 2015 issue of Jetstar Asia magazine. Republishing here knowing that a lot of awareness-raising work is yet to be done since a new, horrible elephant/snake show venue just opened around the corner from my house!