The Reintroduction of the Gibbon in Chiang Mai, Thailand
The beautiful village of Mae Kampong is home to the Flight of the Gibbon experience in Chiang Mai. We are extremely lucky to be surrounded by a lush evergreen mixed-seasonal forest. Thanks to the efforts of the Flight of the Gibbon conservation team, the forests of Mae Kampong are now home to four active gibbons. Our customers often get to see these magnificent creatures while they are ziplining with us.
The two older gibbons, a female called Thong Lott and a male called Thong Dee, were reintroduced into the forests here in 2007. They’ve since had two children, a boy in 2011 and a girl in 2013.
About the Gibbons
Our gibbons are white-handed gibbons. It won’t surprise you to learn that this is because they have white hairs on their hands. The white-handed gibbon is a threatened species. What that means is that they are still found in the wild, unlike some species which only exist in protected captive environments, but their population is so small that they are under the real threat of extinction.
There are only around 80,000 white-handed gibbons left in the world! Which might sound like a lot but if you think about the fact that there are 67 million people in Thailand alone… it’s not as many as it sounds.
Gibbons are losing their homes and the species is in gradual decline. They are hunted for their meat and to be enslaved to be sold as pets in other locations. They also have a low birth rate. They’re a bit like human beings in that respect. Most mating pairs will only have one child every few years. This presents certain challenges when it comes to re-populating the species in areas where they are reintroduced.
The Bigger Picture
The loss of Thailand’s forests is creating a huge loss of habitat for many species in Thailand. The country has only got 10-11% of its primary forest remaining and sadly, despite it being illegal, logging continues without much in the way of interruption.
Traditionally, hill-tribes and farmers burn their fields in Northern Thailand during the winter through to early-summer and this helps prepare those fields for new crops. Sadly, they are also burning down forests at the same time to increase their lands.
If you’re at all squeamish, you might want to skip this next paragraph or two. The way gibbons are caught in the wild is particularly inhumane. The mother is shot dead and this brings baby gibbons to ground to try and find out what has happened to their parent. They are then captured and forced into tiny, cramped and completely inadequate cages.
It’s estimated that nearly half the gibbons caught like this will die as they are transported to market to be sold. Yet more gibbons will perish at the markets due to the conditions and their misery at their deceased parent. If they survive, they can look forward to a horrible life as a pet.
Most people, who keep gibbons, don’t know how to keep them properly. They feed them a diet that isn’t in keeping with their natural habitat. When the gibbon finally reaches maturity, at the age of 6, it can become aggressive. This leads to owners have the gibbons destroyed out of fear for their own safety.
The Good News – The Gibbons at Flight of the Gibbon in Chiang Mai
The first pair of gibbons, reintroduced to the forests around Mae Kampong, has thrived. We hope to be able to make more of a difference soon. We are looking to find more mating pairs of gibbons to reintroduce to the jungle.
This is not an easy process. Gibbons need a lot of careful rehabilitation if they are to survive the change from captivity to living in the wild. They can only be reintroduced if they exhibit certain signs during the rehabilitation process.
The process requires an enclosure which gives the gibbon some exposure to their new environment while also protecting them from it. If the gibbon moves round that enclosure well, spends most of its time at the top of the enclosure, shows a strong bond with their chosen mate (copulating, grooming, playing etc.) and doesn’t show any behavioural signs of distress – only then can it move into the wild.
It is vital to the gibbons’ well-being that they are released as a fully bonded mating pair. This is so that they can be completely independent of human beings. Strangely, it is also important that the gibbons show no signs of dependence on the humans that care for them during the rehabilitation process. That can be dangerous for both the people and the gibbons. Gibbons, as they mature, can become aggressive towards those people. It’s also important that the gibbons don’t see people as friends, so that they can keep as far away from poachers as possible in the wild.
Finally, we have to find just the right area for gibbons to be released. It has to have enough food supply so that the gibbons can forage and find enough to eat. It also has to be at some distance from the habitats of any other gibbons. That’s because they are a territorial species. They sing in the mornings when they awake. That’s to ward off other gibbons from their homes.
If we introduce gibbons too close to another group of gibbons – they may attack each other. That could be fatal for one or both groups of gibbons.
At Flight of the Gibbon, we’re happy to do the groundwork so that this wonderful species can come back home and enjoy its natural habitat once more and grateful to our customers for supporting our efforts.