Gibbon Rehabilation Centre, Phuket
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre at Khao Phra Thaew Forest Reserve is the world's first permanent program to rehabilitate captive Gibbons. It was created by a couple who began rescuing and rehabilitating Gibbons in their backyard in Bangkok.
In 1992 it became illegal to own a Gibbon so many Gibbons had to be released or handed over. As all Gibbons are stolen as young babies, they have no life skills and so need rehabilitation. The mothers are shot in order to steal the baby but apparently the baby also dies 9 out of 10 times. Other Gibbons in the group may come to try to rescue the baby and often also end up being shot, so many Gibbons can be lost to poach just one baby.
The Centre is run by international volunteers who are studying animals. Unfortunately for visitors, but fortunately for the Gibbons, you are not able to get too close to the Gibbons as they are trying to adjust them to minimal human contact. Apparently new people close to them causes them a lot of stress, including when new volunteers start. People are asked not to try to imitate the calls of the Gibbons either as it causes them stress and confuses them about their hierarchical structure.
Many of the Gibbons have been mistreated by their owners including being beaten severely for biting. There is one Gibbon at the sanctuary that never can be released because she bit a child and was beaten so badly that her hand and a foot were amputated. You can sponsor a Gibbon for a year for 1, 500 baht which is only about $45. For this you also get a t-shirt, a picture, story & regular updates. If you don't take the t-shirt, the centre can save more money for the Gibbons.
The Gibbons are not the only reason to visit. The park is a beautiful lush rainforest and the Bang Pae waterfall is lovely to visit. The mosquitos are quite bad, but they sell repellant for 60 baht.
Entry fee is 100 baht per non-Thai to the park. There is no entry fee to the Gibbons, but donations are gratefully received. The park is not open on weekends or Phuket public holidays.
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (GRP) was set up in 1992 in order to address the plight of Thailand's wild gibbon population that inhabits its rainforests. Gibbons have become popular pets in Thailand, as well as tourist attractions, with tourists paying to have their photo taken with the animal. Both practices are illegal and have contributed greatly to the decline in Thailand's wild gibbon population, as these captive gibbons are stolen out of the wild by poachers, often as babies. This combined with loss of habitat to deforestation has put the gibbon at great risk.
The GPR's main mission is to rehabilitate rescued gibbons so that they can be released back into the wild. Since these gibbons were often captured as babies and raised by humans rather than a mother gibbon, they lack some of the natural skills needed to survive in the wild. The rehabiliation is a long and costly process, supported mostly by private donations.
The rehabilitation is undertaken at a site within Phuket's only remaining rainforest near the Bang Pae Waterfall. Visitors to the site can see the gibbons and learn more about their individual stories. The center also has a lot of educational material as well as a gift shop. You can also pledge money to adopt an individual gibbon of your choice.
You can combine a visit to the GRP with a pleasant hike to the Bang Pae Waterfall itself. Not many tourists make it out here, so it is a great place to relax and get back to nature.
This gibbon reserve cares for these animals that have been abused and eventually re-introduces them back to their normal habitat. The abused animals came from bars in Thailand or for being used in tourist activities-when a tourist takes a picture with wild animals. Many handlers kill the mother and steal the baby animals-since they are easy to handle. Once they are older they are further abused and kept in small cages, since they become more aggressive.
This centre is financed by tourist's donations. You can adopt a gibbon for $USD 25 -which pays for one gibbon's medical care for one year. Many of the gibbons are infected with hepatitis A and some with HIV.
The organization is mostly run by volunteers, who seem quite dedicated to this cause. We adopted Lamut, a shy who was being used to have her pictures taken for tourists on Patong Beach. Also, when you are there you can hear the gibbons singing or hooting. This is how they communicate with one another-quite interesting experience.
When you visit the Gibbon Project, do remember to buy a T-Shirt from the shop to support the project (or drop cash in the collector Box :-)).
The T-shirts sold here are cheaper than the ones you buy in the night markets and above all much more unique. The quality is premium.
The designs are unique and back home in Germany they are a real Eye-Catcher! Beats buying any expensive fake Diesel or so to show off back home.
It's a win-win-situation for you and the Gibbons :-)))
Also take some time to take to the people helping out. They have a lot of stories to tell around each Gibbon in the cages!
Things not to do!!!!!!!!!!!!
Don't take pictures with Gibbons for Money in the tourist areas.....Please.
In the center of Phuket there is a wildlife reserve-around 23 sq kilometers of rain forest. There are two waterfalls at the site; the Ton Sai and Bang Pae. Near the Bang Pae falls there is a Gibbon reserve. There are wild gibbons, monkeys, mouse deer and other small animals in the forest. Watch out for cobras, snakes and leeches.
On a 1/2 day sightseeing tour we visited the Project and was astounded at the work of the volunteers rehabilitating. It's sad to think that the gibbons have been mistreated and uplifting to see the rehabilitation project.
My advice to fellow VTrs is to give this a miss - we went expecting to walk round the enclosures and see how the rehabilitation is put into practice - instead we found the entire area cordoned off by bamboo so the closest view we had was at a significant distance with no real opportunity to see their work in action or the gibbons themeselves
What a disappointment
A further negative was that to access the Centre you have to enter the National park - 200 Baht per person (Feb 2012) - we saw our money go into the 'park rangers' top pocket but no ticket was issued
The walk to the waterfalls very rough almost to the point of being unsafe - altogether a most unsatisfactory experience - we wished that we had stayed at our hotel.