Gibbon Rehabilitation Project

What we say: 3.5 stars

The Phuket Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, found at the edge of Khao Phra Thaeo national park near Bang Pae Waterfall, has been working since 1992 to help rescue gibbons and other animals from the animal tourism and exotic pet trade.

Hanging around: a few of the 70 monkeys sheltered by the GRP.

Hanging around: a few of the 70 monkeys sheltered by the GRP.

From elephant riding to monkey shows to playing with tigers, encounters with animals are a highlight for many visitors to Thailand, but sadly such attractions are often harmful to the creatures involved, and sometimes illegal. The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (GRP), however, offers not only a chance to see some amazing primates at close range but to help improve their lives as well.

Phuket’s wild gibbon population disappeared 30 years ago and populations across Thailand are under serious threat due to poaching and smuggling. Despite many assurances by officials to rein in the trade, every night on Phuket gibbons and other exotic animals are used as photo props with tourists, especially around the bars and streets of Patong beach.

‘Jora’, a baby slow loris recently brought to the centre from Patong beach by Russian tourists.

‘Jora’, a baby slow loris recently brought to the centre from Patong beach by Russian tourists.

The slow loris has also emerged as a photo favourite. The GRP estimates some 50 have been confiscated from Bangla Road on Patong beach since July last year alone by Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) authorities. Some of these are now under GRP care. Plans are underway to set up a separate shelter for slow lorises in Phuket with the DNP and the registered Thai foundation Love Wildlife, which already operates a small loris centre near Pattaya.

Like gibbons, slow lorises are a protected species in Thailand by Thai law, and listed on Appendix 1 on CITES (Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species).

Look at them chompers. Gibbons in captivity often have their teeth filed or removed.

Look at them chompers. Unlike this one born at the GRP, gibbons in captivity often have their teeth filed or removed, seriously harming their chance to ever return to the wild.

Some 70 gibbon, loris and langur monkeys are sheltered at GRP, but since the aim is to reduce their dependence on humans and reintroduce them to the wild, contact with visitors is limited. Only about half a dozen gibbons are in view at the centre, enclosed in cages set high out of reach. Among these are some that are too ill or traumatised to ever again swing freely in the jungle canopy. All around are signs explaining more about each of the gibbons’ life stories as well as information about gibbons in the wild and the conservation efforts of the GRP.

The GRP is set just inside the entrance to the national park, which charges foreign visitors a 200 baht park entrance fee. It’s free to enter the gibbon centre, but donations are welcome and accepted at boxes set up around the centre. A small shop sells postcards, T-shirts and other GRP souvenir items.

One of the gibbon's life stories on display.

One of the gibbon’s life stories on display.

In the park beyond the GRP centre is a footpath leading to Bang Pae waterfall, where many come to enjoy a mini hike and cool dip in the stream and pools.

For those wishing to help beyond making a cash donation, the GRP takes in volunteers to assist its permanent staff of nine.

“The GRP … relies heavily on volunteer help in order to carry out all the work here,” says Petra Osterberg, a primatologist with the Nocturnal Primate Research Group and a senior GRP volunteer. All volunteers undergo an initial two-week training period so the minimum volunteering time is three weeks, “but longer-term commitments are preferable since it takes a while to get to know all our 70 or so primates, and it is a lot better for the animals with more consistent carers around.”

Brownie, Dodo and Dr Tum -- a gibbon family set to be released into the wild soon.

Brownie, Dodo and Dr Tum — a gibbon family set to be released into the wild soon.

Up to 12 volunteers may be accommodated at a time. Email for more information and to receive the volunteer application forms.

Too often in Phuket, animals are confined to a lifetime of unwitting service to the tourism trade, and thus there are few animal attractions here that we could recommend in good conscience. The GRP, however, with its focus on education rather than entertainment, is an inspiring exception — a true place of discovery for kids and adults alike.

And once you hear the haunting hoot-hoots of the sheltered gibbons and learn more about their sad lives in captivity, it’s impossible to remain indifferent about their plight.

Many thanks to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project for supplying the photos for this article. Find more updates and photos on its Facebook page.

More details
104/3 Moo 3 Paklock, Thalang, Phuket
Last updated: 18th September, 2014

About the author:
Lana Willocks is a freelance writer from Canada based in Phuket. Her love affair with Thailand (and, ok, a Thai man) began on a university exchange programme in Bangkok, then she returned to Phuket on the auspicious date of 9-9-1999 and never left.
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