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The Gibbon Rehabilitation Center

- Hannah

They are the first thing I hear as I step out of the car. A cacophony of hoots, howls, and shrill whistles fill the air. The gibbons themselves are invisible, shrouded behind a thick blanket of leaves, every shade of green imaginable. Here, hidden in the flourishing jungle of Phuket, the Gibbon’s Rehabilitation Center can be found. I stretch as I listen to the jungle sing around me.

It is but a short walk to the Center itself.

It is not an impressive complex. A squat concrete building, painted with gibbons, is the only structure dedicated to the volunteers work. Inside, I find a middle aged man who claims to be a volunteer. Before we go to see the gibbons themselves, he shows me the billboards that tell the story of each and every monkey in the sanctuary, and what the volunteers are doing for them. The story he tells is a sad one.

In many countries, wild animals are captured while young, tamed, and used for tourist purposes. Sadly, Thailand has many animals in these circumstances.

Although it is illegal, police often turn a blind eye to the criminal activity in their towns, as the results are good for their economy. You see, many tourists have no idea that the cute little monkeys, small mammals, or birds are being mistreated and are sometimes even endangered species. The majority of those who do know either do not care, or don’t know what to do about the situation. The volunteer went on to tell me that many gibbons are captured when they’re young, for the sole purpose of use in bars. These babies are made to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol in night clubs to entertain tourists. Their owners drug them to make them compliant, and also to keep them awake during the long hours of the night. 

He went on to tell me that the only way to capture a baby gibbon is to kill the mother, and then catch the baby as it falls from the canopy. Many young gibbons are killed in the fall, and often whole families are wiped out while trying to save the youngest member of their group.

The Gibbon Rehabilitation Center is dedicated to rescuing gibbons who’ve grown up in terrible conditions with owners who’re concerned only with profits. They’ve rescued many gibbons over the years, with the intention of releasing them into the wild. The life history of most of these wild animals is tragic. Raised by careless owners, worked from dawn late into the night, most of these monkeys haven’t seen another gibbon for over two years. As such, they’ve either forgotten or never learned normal gibbon behavior. The volunteer (we’ll call him Ralph) told me that “We keep the gibbons close to eachother, but still separated. This way, they can learn proper gibbon behavior without becoming too territorial.” The gibbons are treated and tested for diseases, as they often have HIV and other nasty illnesses. In the end, many of them are released into the wild. 

“But not all of them make it.” Ralph told me. “There’s a few that will stay with us forever.”  For example, one of the older females was severely hurt when she arrived, haven been badly beaten by her former owner. In the end, her left leg and right arm had to be amputated. She will live out the rest of her life in the care of the volunteers at the Center. For others, the problem is as simple as not being able to find a mate. One gibbon simply refused to be released into the wild, coming back to his cage of his own volition multiple times.

The Gibbon Rehabilitation Center has many success stories though.

They’ve effectively reintroduced many gibbon families back into the wild, and through their assistance, gibbons are making a comeback. The number of gibbons living in the wild is slowly rising, and soon, those at the Center hope, this amazing breed of monkey will be removed from the endangered list!

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