Thanaphat Payakkaporn – Secretary-General of the Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand
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Thanaphat Payakkaporn – Secretary-General of the Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand

Thanaphat Payakkaporn is the key man of Phuket’s Gibbon Rehabilitation Project. The organization has been operating since 1992 and it’s currently the world’s first gibbon project that rescues, rehabilitates and releases gibbons back to the forest. Phuketindex.com recently had an interview with him and we’d like to share it with you…

How will the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project impact our society?

The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project here in Phuket is currently the world’s most successful gibbon project. It’s able to release and reintroduce gibbons back to the last rainforest in Phuket where gibbons were close to extinction more than 30 years ago.

We’re able to give back what humans have taken from the wild and a lot of people, a lot of children now come and see this success in bringing back the ecosystem in the last rainforest of Phuket and making it even richer in nature.

Please tell us about your business experience.

Even though I’m a secretary general of a foundation, I have many other projects and of course, the Gibbon Project is one of them. I do this as a ‘full time hobby’. This is my passion to continue on the work from my mother. I made a big promise to her that I would take care of all of my friends the best I could. So I have my own business to get enough money to live, and this is my full time hobby so I don’t have to depend on the money that people donate to help the gibbons. So you can be sure that all the money that you give us goes straight to the gibbons’ rehabilitation.

What inspired you to start the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project?

I was lucky enough to continue this kind of work on from my mother. She was one of the founders of this foundation. When I was young I remember there were more than 70 gibbons in the backyard. There were also tigers, bears, and a lot of wildlife out there. My mother and her friends rescued animals from all over the country and we worked alongside the Royal Forest of Thailand. I grew up with all these animals so I look at them as my family, I don’t look at them as wild animals.

What makes The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project team come together?

The heart of the project is that we live together like a family, we’re not working here as a business model. Everyone is equal, we eat together, we work together, we go into the forest together. In order to work like this you have to trust one another because anything can happen in the forest, especially at night. The thing that draws people to come and work here is what we do for the gibbons not what we do for ourselves. That draws not only staff but also a lot of volunteers from all over the world. For more than 20 years they’ve been coming to help with our big mission here to release gibbons back into to the wild.

How do you search for gibbons that need help?

Phuket, as you know, is a tourist boom province, many people come to Phuket to see wildlife and that’s a bad thing for gibbons especially, because poachers go into the forest and shoot the entire family to get the little baby gibbon for tourists to see. And when the authorities hear about an illegal business with a gibbon they rescue it. Then we do medical checks on it before we put it into the training process which is not very easy because gibbons’ DNA is 90% the same as humans. That means that when they live with humans they catch diseases from us. 70% of the gibbons that go through the medical checkup do not pass this process and that means we cannot release them back into the forest. We do not release sick gibbons back into nature.

What happens with the gibbons after you get them?

We check everything from Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, HIV, Tuberculosis (TB), Herpes Simplex, Rabies and many other diseases. If they pass this process we put them into cages and try to team them up as family members.

We need to form a gibbon family before we can release them. But this is very challenging task because you cannot put males and females together in the same cage against their wills. It’s just like with humans; we choose our own mates. If you put a male and a female together they’ll start to fight so you have to put them in different cages and try to observe them every day… whether this one starts to like that one… and then move them closer and closer. When they look like they could make a family we gradually move them further and further into the forest.

When we think they’re ready we build another cage in the forest in an area that has enough food, and where everything is good for them. We put them there for three months before we open the cage. But when we open the cage, normally the gibbons do not go out as the cage has been their safe place, their home for so long. So what we do is we leave the door open for a week while they go in and out, in and out, and then finally we close the door. From the minute we close it, we stay with them 24 hours round the clock for two months. That means where they go, we go too, wherever they sleep in the forest we sleep too to make sure that they survive in the forest.

How can we support Gibbon Rehabilitation Project?

The easiest way to support us is to just not support the illegal ‘photopop’ business. If you go anywhere in Thailand (or around the world) and see people walking around with a gibbon or wild creature, do not take a photo with them. That’s the easiest way you can help because for every gibbon you see on the street, 10 have been killed in the forest. And it’s not easy to rescue them, it’s not easy to release these gibbons back into the forest! The first family we had we trained them for 10 years before we could release them. And another option to help us is by donating to us or adopting a gibbon program that we have.

Finally, what do you expect for the future of gibbons?

Now, from zero, we have 32 gibbons in Khaoprataew forest here but what we expect is that there are still many gibbons you see here that cannot be released due to disease. What we want to see in the future is that people like us or people who are working in the vet business could find a way to cure all these diseases so that gibbons can be able to swing back into nature again.

Next month (March 2019), at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project we will launch a new program to allow visitors to have a ‘research’ experience here. This means we will also ‘walk alongside’ with you and teach you about the gibbons’ nutrients and natural wild food and how to feed them so please stay tuned in our website www.gibbonproject.org We will launch this project soon.

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