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A gibbon at the Phuket rehab centre, where some now return to the wild

Phuket Treetop Life Begins Anew for Gibbons

Sunday, November 18, 2012
PHUKET: A gibbon family of three is being released into the jungle on Phuket today. We are aiming to see it happen.

There will always be news events on Phuket that we are reluctant to cover. Sad stories, tragic stories, stories that remind us of what's changing in a negative way on Phuket.

This is not one of those stories.

Primatologist Petra Osterberg wrote an article a little while back teling us that Cop, once a frightened baby gibbon being abused by tourist touts in Patong, would be released soon into the wild on Phuket.

Now that day has come. And the Phuketwan team, along with a crew from the BBC, is delighted to have the chance to see it happen.

The story of Phuket's gibbon rehabilitation is one of hope. Over the past 30 years, the number of gibbons in the wild in Thailand has been reduced by about 80 percent.

On Phuket the creatures were wiped out completely, with the last wild gibbon disappearing in the 1980s.

Now the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project is changing all that. The project is putting families of gibbons back into the Kaho Phraw Thaew forest, the last place they can find sanctuary in the Phuket wilderness.

It has taken years for Cop and her family to prepare for this day. Releases take place when a gibbon couple have had a baby and lived together for about two years.

That's when the bonding process is at its strongest, and the parents are prepared to learn the process of living in the wild and supporting each other.

Remarkably, 27 gibbons have been released into the wild on Phuket so far. Cop and her family will today take that number to 30.

We did some preparatory research at the Phuket rehabilitation centre this week.

Cop and her family are being prepared for release by being kept some distance from the parts of the centre that tourists can visit.

Even after release, they will be fed in the forest and protected from harm by their human guardians.

Poachers on Phuket are less likely to shoot gibbon mothers from trees to claim their babes, as once used to happen. Education has hopefully ended that nightmare.

But Ms Osterberg still hears of gibbons being abused by touts for tourists on Phi Phi island and around Phang Nga Bay.

Only with tourists understanding the harm that the process sustains will the cruelty end.

''I went to Patong the other night,'' Ms Osterberg said. ''There were a lot of slow lorises there. Like the gibbons, they are too cute for their own good.''

Education is needed to explain to all tourists, not just those from Europe, that to encourage the touts is to encourage the extinction of these wild creatures.

But there is Hope. Hope is the name of the first baby gibbon released into the wild on Phuket. And now, Hope is living in the wild and has her own family.

We'll update readers as soon as we can about today's release, and how you can help to make sure the gibbons are always a part of life on Phuket.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Heartening news. Particularly the part about these newly released gibbons being protected (and hopefully tagged) once returned to the wild.

I once admonished a couple of young tourists in Patong for agreeing to their having their photos taken with a baby gibbon, telling them they shoot the mother to get the baby. They were quite upset with me for disturbing their 'photo op'.

Posted by findlay on November 18, 2012 10:13


Fantastic news. I made a special effort to visit the rehabilitation project during my last visit to Phuket. They do a wonderful job and donations will always be welcome.

Posted by Arthur on November 18, 2012 19:06


Great work - keep going - any ideas with the slow loris?

Posted by timinphuket on November 19, 2012 11:45


"Hundreds of kilos of food have to be carried into the wilderness by volunteers, no great hardship when there are a dozen of them, but difficult when numbers drop to just three, as happened recently." Why has the number dropped? Boredom? And why must the gibbons be GIVEN food anyway, sounds more like an open zoo. But with no PAID STAFF.

Posted by findlay on November 19, 2012 15:42


Great work however there will always be some tourists whether uneducated or just selfish that want their photos taken with these and other creatures so a fine unless huge would not be enough to deter poachers and then perhaps they would say they do not have enough money to pay There should be a detailed list with Gibbons part of it that if snyone is found with these animals, even in their car etc there is a mandatory jail sentence.

Posted by Happy Farang on November 19, 2012 15:42


I think the Thai police need to make more of an effort with the illegal trade of gibbons and other endangered primates. The law is not harsh enough for the perpetrators and Thai police often turn a blind eye. Tourist support this disgraceful trade, but I believe getting every single tourist to understand is harder then the police actually enforcing the law and doing the job they are payed to do.

Posted by Anonymous on November 22, 2012 03:39


FINDLAY.. you obviously have not been to project and are completely uneducated on the topic. When a gibbon family is first released they have been with the project for a while and have to slowly learn where in the wild to source the food, hence why staff/volunteers trek to feed them each day. The food is slowly decreased as time goes by and eventually no food is brought to them. They would die of starvation if we dumped them in the wild without a little help.
Staff numbers drop because the Thai staff are payed poorly and it is an exhausting job with long hours. They not only rescue gibbons but other wild life that are often brought in by locals
Also it is not an open zoo. Volunteers and staff only have access to the gibbons to feed and clean. There are a select few that you can see behind a barrier. These gibbons will never be released because they are disabled or are another specie of gibbon from another country, they cannot be relocated back because there are no projects like the Thai project to safely get them back into the wild. The project is amazing considering they are the first of their kind and have had to learn along the way.

Posted by Anonymous on November 22, 2012 04:00

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