Fifty years ago, Phuket residents were afraid to cross the island
as the jungles still had tigers, wild boars, tapirs and a rich wildlife
that has all but disappeared with development. Also living on the
island in great numbers were gibbons, a species of small ape, whose
natural habitat stretches from northeast India to the remote islands
However, by the 1990s, the only gibbons that could be found on
Phuket were those chained to poles in bars in Patong. Gibbons became
valuable as entertainment for tourists and instead of their natural
diet of forest vegetation, they were fed peanuts and beer.
The gibbons were being hunted in the Andaman region by local poachers
who could earn a monthly salary by capturing just one infant gibbon.
Unfortunately, the only way to catch a young gibbon was to shoot
the mother and hope the infant would fall to the jungle floor unharmed.
Only one in every three manages to survive this ordeal.
In 1992, an American zoologist and filmmaker, TD Morin decided to
set up a sanctuary for the gibbons who were living in captivity
and attempt to train them to return to their natural habitat.
TD convinced the Royal Forest Department to allow the Gibbon Rehabilitation
Project to occupy land next to the Bang Pae Waterfall near the Heroines
Monument of Phuket. Next he convinced volunteers to help raise funds
for medical supplies, food and cages for the gibbons who needed
to be retrained to live in the wild.
He developed a gibbon release program whereby the retrained gibbons
would eventually be released on small islands in the Andaman Bay.
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project soon attracted international attention.
In Europe, environmental action groups such as Green Volunteers,
Wolf Trail and Europe Conservation recruited young volunteers who
each paid for the opportunity to live and work for the Gibbon Rehabilitation
The Australian government, through its program AusAid, provided
funds for an education program.
Local volunteers such as Captain Roy Petrie, a retired airline
pilot with Saudi Air and Singapore
Airlines, brought Dr. Robert Cleaves, founder of the Wilderness
Conservancy in Southern Africa, to Phuket with a donation
of 100 syringe darts and 200 needles from an American company,
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project has also attracted interest in
the veterinary community. Dr. Werner Krause retired from his practice
in Brandenburg, Germany, and decided to volunteer at the gibbon
project on Phuket where he became the resident veterinarian.
Today, the GRP is managed by the Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of
Thailand. Funding from international aid groups has been cut and
the GRP depends more on cash donations from visitors to the site.
You can help preserve the gibbon population on Phuket by visiting
their home at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project. Not only will you
be able to enjoy the tropical jungle and Bang Pae waterfall, but
a donation to this worthwhile project will ensure that the gibbons
will again swing freely through the surrounding trees.