The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (or GRP) operates in the old tropical forest around Bang Pae waterfall, Phuket. Since 1992, the wildlife conservation effort set out to rehabilitate and improve the welfare of gibbons that were hunted or mistreated. GRP staff and volunteers have been taking care of gibbons and released them into the wild.
Hunters often capture the animals to sell to people who keep them as pets or touts who parade them around popular tourist areas, urging tourists to have their photos taken with the gibbons – for a fee. On average, a hunter tragically destroys 3 gibbon families, taking their babies alive. The project aims to bring an end to this sad tale.
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Taking care of the gibbons
The white-handed gibbon used to be the most common gibbon found in Thailand. There weren’t many left in the jungle due to hunting. But the cuteness of young gibbons, their big eyes and childlike behaviour, are attractive to people – it’s difficult not to be drawn to their cuteness when meeting your first young gibbon. This is what the touts count on for their income.
But as the gibbons grow older, stronger, more aggressive and less cute, their ‘owners’ often no longer have a use for them. Either they hand them over to the GRP or they simply abandon them. Some of those abandoned are found by other people who take them to the GRP.
The project has more than 60 gibbons under its care at the moment. Newcomers are initially kept in a quarantine unit, where they are observed and tested to see whether they are unhealthy. Once cleared, they are moved into roomy cages for observation and to allow them to adjust to nature. Finally, before being released, they are moved deep into the jungle, far from people.
The GRP receives gibbons from every part of the Kingdom. There’s a mix of local staff and foreign volunteers working at the centre. According to handlers, gibbons are very much like humans. They are unpredictable and have emotions.
Sadly, rehabilitated gibbons have a 50:50 survival rate after being released in the wild. After a few release attempts, their first successful release was in 2002. Despite the challenges, the Phuket facility is the only one in the world with a considerable success rate in rehabilitating and releasing gibbons.
Not a petting zoo
Many visitors come to the GRP and are disappointed that they cannot touch the gibbons. They have heard about the project and for some reason seem to think that it’s run like a zoo. They expect to visit and at least give the poor gibbons a small hug. But it’s far from that.
As a visitor, you can see some of the more recently arrived gibbons, but only through bars and from a distance of at least 2 metres. You’re not allowed to feed or touch the gibbons. You may take photographs but not with flash.
There is an interesting presentation about the GRP’s work and details of each gibbon are posted in both Thai and English. The GRP spends an average of 200,000 baht a month running the project. Almost half of that is spent on food and medicine. Proceeds from the sale of small souvenirs at a small shop go towards the project’s efforts.
To learn more about GRP, visit www.gibbonproject.org. Entry to the GRP itself is free, but it is located within the boundaries of the Khao Phra Theaw National Park, which charges an entry fee of around 200 baht per person. The GRP does not receive any part of that fee.
Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
- Opening Hours: Daily from 9am to 4.30pm
- Location: Bang Pae Waterfall, 104/3 Moo 3, Pa Khlock, Talang, Phuket 83100, Thailand
- Tel: +66 (0)88 590 9714