Charlie – the gibbon
I motor-biked to Nai Harn beach over the hills and through the lanes. It really is a lovely little journey which takes about thirty-five minutes from Kata Beach. On the way, I met a few elephants strolling along the road with their mahouts. Then a gibbon wandered into the path of an oncoming bus and decided to sit like a political protester, in the middle of the road, refusing to budge.
I later found out that his name was Charlie and that he and his wife Lam Yai were local celebrities who visited the bar at the elephant trekking station most days around 4 pm. Charlie used to sit with the people while they were having a drink and sometimes he would steal a drink for himself.
He’s very partial to Sprite but it isn’t good for him. Lam Yai spent her time annoying the elephants and stealing their bananas.
We just dropped in for a drink at about six thirty and Lamyai was sat in a tree overhanging the motorbike parking area. I soon realised why, as I parked mine she immediately came down to see what she could pinch. She found a full bottle of orange juice in someone’s basket, grabbed it and shot back up the tree, took the top off and guzzled away.
After a beer or two I wandered off to the toilet and there was Lam Yai on guard duty sat between the Ladies and Gents leaning against the wall. I’m not sure but I think she was waiting for Charlie to come out of the gents!! I can’t quite get over how comfortable these two fascinating and beautiful wild animals were with humans.
Charlie would hold my hand and check every inch of skin on my arm for bugs and then gently lift my arm and give my armpit the once over. He was far more painstaking and conscientious than most dermatologists I know.
There are numerous gibbons being used as tourist attractions in Phuket. By paying to have your photo taken with a gibbon you are helping these people to reduce the numbers of wild gibbons and cause suffering to this beautiful animal. There are 17 species of gibbons, classified as lesser apes, not monkeys. Their habitat is primarily the rainforests of South East Asia and they live on average 35 to 40 years.
Gibbons ensure the health and vitality of the rainforests in which they live. Therefore, their survival must be ensured far into the future. Gibbons are threatened by loss of habitat, but also increasingly, by hunting and the illegal pet market. Remember, each cute baby gibbon you see at a market or beach had its mother shot dead by poachers. This loss destroys the family group forever.
At Bang Pae Falls in Khao Pra Thaew, the last remaining forest of Phuket, the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project is doing a wonderful job and is making great strides towards filling the forest with gibbons again. How wonderful that will be. Staffed by volunteers they need all the help they can get. Along the 4025 you cross the intersection at Heroine’s Monument to join the 4027 heading north-east towards the gibbon rehabilitation centre and Bang-Pae Falls which is in the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park. The area is primarily a dense forest 390 metres above sea level at the highest point. A small area of the park is devoted to the rehabilitation of orphaned, injured and sick gibbons. Sadly these loveable, highly intelligent creatures have virtually been hunted to extinction in Phuket but it’s wonderful to see the project is slowly working. Once they are ready they are re-introduced to their natural habitat. It’s quite an eerie feeling walking through the forest and hearing their high pitched calls echoing all around you.
With a little understanding and awareness, we can all help to save the gibbon from extinction.
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Sadly Lamyai died in 2012. Maybe she was older than we thought. Gibbons display pair-bonding and are monogamous and the owners of the Elephant Trekking station were concerned that Charlie would pine as there are no other gibbons in the area. They took him to Phangna and he was released into the forest where hopefully he has found some friends and who knows, maybe a new mate.
The time I spent in the company of Charlie and Lam Yai was priceless; an experience I will never forget. I shall miss him but he’s in, the best place now, his natural habitat with other gibbons.