Monday, June 16, 2014

Thailand: Edwin's Rescue Centre

White-handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar)
Edwin Wiek is the founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, which operates (among other things) an animal rescue centre in the western part of the country, near Kaeng Krachan National Park.  I first visited the centre over a weekend break during the 2004 meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  When Thailand hosted another CITES Conference in 2013 I was hoping to go again.  When Edwin offered another weekend outing for our conservation colleagues, for March 9th and 10th 2013, Eileen (back from her trip to Israel) and I signed up.

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.

Here's our gang on a tour of the premises.  In the foreground are Sam Wasser of the University of Washington, the world's leading authority on genetic identification of ivory (a tool of major importance in the fight against poaching), and another old pal, Maria Elena Sánchez (in front of Ian).  Maria Elena and her husband Juan Carlos Cantu (behind her, in hat and moustache) are a redoubtable team of conservationists, responsible for convincing the government of Mexico to ban trapping of wild parrots.  The ban has made a real difference to these beleaguered birds.

Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)
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.

Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)
Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)
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.

Indochinese Silvered Langur (Trachypithecus germaini)
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.

Dusky Langur (Trachypithecus obscurus)
The Dusky Langur (Trachypithecus obscurus), here at the northern end of its range, is a species I have seen frequently in Malaysia.

Dusky Langur (Trachypithecus obscurus)
Babies like this one are frequent targets for the pet trade (probably the mother was shot to get it).

Northern Pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca leonina)
Northern Pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca leonina)
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".

Pileated Gibbon (Hylobates pileatus)
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.

White-handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar)
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.

White-handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar)
Edwin has a personal relationship with his gibbons, as the animals themselves demonstrate.

White-handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar)
White-handed Gibbon (Hylobates lar)
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).

Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus)
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.

Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus)
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.

Sambar (Rusa unicolor)
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.

Chinese Serow (Capricornis milneedwardsii)
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 Squirrel (Callosciurus caniceps)
Grey-bellied Squirrel (Callosciurus caniceps)
Grey-bellied Squirrels (Callosciurus caniceps) came down for handouts.

Western Striped Squirrel (Tamiops mcclellandi)
This Western (or Burmese, or Himalayan) Striped Squirrel (Tamiops mcclellandi) preferred to stay in the treetops.

Asian Flat-tailed House Gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus)
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.

Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus)
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.

Green-billed Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus tristis)
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.

Forest Wagtail (Dendronanthus indicus)
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).

Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus demoleus)
And, of course, besides the smaller vertebrates there were insects: here is a Common Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus demoleus), in active pursuit of nectar.

Flatid Planthopper Nymph (Phromnia sp.)
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.

Flatid Planthopper Nymph (Phromnia sp.)
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.

Flatid planthopper nymph (Phromnia sp.)
Flatid planthopper nymph (Phromnia sp.)
Proof, if any was needed, that charismatic minifauna can be as exciting as charismatic megafauna.  The Little Five, anyone?

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