We had, as I expected, a very convivial weekend. The bearded gentleman facing me is my old pal (and well-known naturalist and conservationist) Ian Redmond, Chief Consultant for the UNEP Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP), and next to me (back to the camera) is Mark Jones, Executive Director of Humane Socity International/UK.
At the centre of the centre, so to speak, are Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus), former work animals rescued from dangerous and unhealthy conditions on the streets of Bangkok and other Thai cities.
WFFT operates an innovative programme that allows overseas volunteers to spend working holidays helping to care for its elephants (and other animals); volunteering fees go to help fund the centre's work. So if what these women are doing looks interesting, exciting or (I hope) inspiring, you can check out the WFFT site for a different kind of vacation in Thailand.
Primates are another major focus of the centre's work. Among its rescued animals are Indochinese Silvered Langurs (Trachypithecus germaini), now regarded as a separate species from the more southerly Silvered Langur (T. cristatus) that we see in Malaysia.
The Dusky Langur (Trachypithecus obscurus), here at the northern end of its range, is a species I have seen frequently in Malaysia.
Babies like this one are frequent targets for the pet trade (probably the mother was shot to get it).
The Northern Pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca leonina) is another Thai monkey once included with a Malaysian species, the Southern Pig-tailed Macaque (M. nemestrina). According to the IUCN Red List, "In Thailand, the males of this species are exploited for picking coconuts by the industry. Sometimes, a well-trained macaque is sold for 1,000USD. They are also in demand by resorts for show".
Gibbons are at risk everywhere throughout their range, both from loss of their forest habitat and capture for illegal trade. The Pileated Gibbon (Hylobates pileatus) from eastern Thailand is classified as Endangered by IUCN. This is a female (males are mostly black); the species takes its name from her black cap.
The more widespread (but still Endangered) White-handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar) is the gibbon species you might find in the wild in the remaining forests near the rescue centre. This, too, is a female.
Edwin has a personal relationship with his gibbons, as the animals themselves demonstrate.
Baby gibbons, the victims of their own cuteness, are a prime target for poachers. A few of the lucky ones end up at the centre. This one was a bundle of energy, and getting him to hold still for a picture was not easy (I could say the same about my own grandchildren, of course).
The centre has rescued a number of other large mammals, including several bears. Here, Mark Jones and a Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) investigate each other.
The Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is a small, but stocky and powerful, predator that has declined significantly in recent years as its preferred wetland habitat has continued to disappear. It, too, is listed as Endangered, and may be nearing extirpation in Thailand.
The Sambar (Rusa unicolor) is the largest of Thailand's six species of deer. One of the others, the endemic Schomburgk's Deer (Rucervus schomburgki), is unfortunately past saving. It was only known for certain from the central swamplands of the country, where the last known animals disappeared in the 1930s.
Ian Redmond and I were particularly excited by this animal, the only one of its kind in the centre. It is a Chinese Serow (Capricornis milneedwardsii) [or, if you follow the new Handbook of the Mammals of the World, an Indochinese Serow (C. maritimus)], one of the "goat-antelopes" related to, among other things, muskoxen. Serows are animals of steep mountain forests and cliffsides, and neither of us had seen one alive before (it seemed quite interested in us, too). Notice the peculiarly long ears and the shaggy white mane.
The animals in the centre are by no means all rescued victims. Our walk around the cages, and through the dry woodland around the centre, turned up some wild animals, too.
Grey-bellied Squirrels (Callosciurus caniceps) came down for handouts.
I found this Asian Flat-tailed House Gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus) on the trunk of a tree in the middle of the centre, doing its best to look like a piece of bark.
There weren't a lot of birds about, but I did find a family party of Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus), ancestors of the domestic chicken, working their way through the undergrowth.
The Green-billed Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus tristis) is not the only malkoha species in Thailand, but it is by far the most common and widespread. For non-southeast Asian birders, malkohas are long-tailed, non-parasitic cuckoos.
My colleagues were a bit bemused by my excitement over this rather plain little bird, one of a quartet of Forest Wagtails (Dendronanthus indicus). Forest Wagtails are supposedly common winter visitors over much of southeast Asia, but this was only the second time I had seen them. They are odd birds, quite unlike other wagtails (for one thing, they don't wag their tails up and down, but pivot their entire bodies from side to side, a very odd-looking behaviour).
And, of course, besides the smaller vertebrates there were insects: here is a Common Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus demoleus), in active pursuit of nectar.
This strange-looking growth caught everyone's attention. It may look like some weird sort of moss, but it is actually a cluster of planthopper nymphs, members of the family Flatidae. Each nymph sports a set of waxy filaments that help camouflage their owner, repel water, and, perhaps, give attacking birds a mouthful of wax for their pains.
We were probably as fascinated by these little creatures as by any of the larger animals in the centre; here, Geert Drieman (formerly of Greenpeace Netherlands) peers at one sitting on Ian's finger.
Proof, if any was needed, that charismatic minifauna can be as exciting as charismatic megafauna. The Little Five, anyone?