About the Thailand Wildlife Rescue Centre
Objectives of the Thailand wildlife rescue centre
- To rescue captive wild animals and rehabilitate them as far as is feasible, allowing them to spend the rest of their lives in a safe environment as close to nature as possible, providing them with the best possible care.
- To campaign against all forms of animal abuse and exploitation in Southeast Asia.
- To work towards ending the illegal animal trade, and to discourage people keeping all wild animals as pets.
- To educate the Thai population, especially children, about the need for wildlife conservation.
- To provide veterinary assistance to any sick or injured animal, wild or domestic.
Check out the Thailand Wildlife Sanctuary Gallery
The need for wildlife protection in AsiaAsia has an incredible diversity of wildlife and wild places. Many species are endangered or under threat for many different reasons.
Illegal wildlife tradeAlthough Thailand has signed the “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora” (CITES), the country is today an important source, consumer and transit country for the trade in endangered wild species and products from these species.
Many threatened species of plants and animals in Thailand and the neighbouring countries of Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar are today severely negatively influenced by the trade and commercial demand for these species and products made from them.
Markets such as the famous Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok and numerous floating markets remain centres for the illegal trade in some of Thailand’s most endangered species of plants and animals. At various border markets live animals and parts of animals are still openly sold.
This illicit trade attracts foreign buyers, mainly from abroad, who capitalize on the buying power of their foreign currency and make large purchases of all types of species to be taken to their homeland to be turned into ‘medicines’ that can be sold for huge profit. Such markets are also centres of trade in animals to be sold illegally as pets, for both export and domestic sale.
Wild animals as pets
In Thailand many people keep wild animals as pets ranging from birds and reptiles to gibbons, monkeys and even bears and tigers. For instance, it is estimated that there are between 3,000 and 5,000 gibbons being kept as pets in Thailand today. During the “amnesty” of 2003 when owners of wildlife could register their wild animals almost 1,100,000 wild animals were registered, mostly birds however a significant amount of mammals such as primates, bears and large cats were reported.
These animals are bought as babies when they are ‘cute’ and easy to handle. Animals may have claws and teeth removed to make them safer. Once these animals become too big or aggressive they are no longer wanted and become a burden to the owner. Such animals suffer from severe neglect and are frequently abandoned at zoos, temples or handed over to forestry department sanctuaries, which often do not have adequate space to house them and are already overrun with unwanted ex-pets.
Do you have any more questions about volunteering in Thailand? Why not try our Thailand Wildlife Sanctuary Frequently asked Questions section.
Animals exploited for the tourist industry
Thailand has a thriving tourism industry. Unfortunately this has been exploited by people wishing to make money by using wild animals as ‘entertainment’ and every day hundreds of animals are suffering at the hands of humans purely to make a profit for their owners.
Examples of how animals are mistreated in the name of ‘entertainment’ include:
Animals made to perform degrading tricks in animal shows.
Wild animals used as attractions to tempt people into establishments such as bars, restaurants, hotels and other tourist venues.
Baby gibbons, monkeys, tigers and elephants used as photo props.
Elephants used for rides and shows in elephant camps and trekking centres.
Roosters used in the bloody spectacle of cock fighting.
Not only is the use of animals for entertainment inhumane and unacceptable from an ethical perspective, involving much suffering and cruelty, but it is also extremely damaging from a conservation perspective. Many of the animals used are taken from ever-dwindling wild populations, depleting Thailand’s forests of wildlife still further. It is estimated that up to nine family members are killed in the wild to take a baby gibbon.
Most of the animals are victims of the pet trade and have been abandoned by their owners when they became too big and aggressive. These animals would have been taken from the wild as infants, usually after their mother or even whole family has been killed. Others have previously been exploited and abused for the tourist trade, for example as photo animals. Others have been rescued from unsuitable living conditions at temples, zoos and other rescue centres.
Often the animals taken in are those that no one else is prepared to care for, for instance those that are ill, disabled or have severe behavioural problems. Some animals are confiscated directly from the illegal wild animal trade at a very young age and have to be hand-reared.
At the centre the animals are rehabilitated as far as possible and sociable species are allowed to live in groups as they would in the wild. As far as possible animals are not kept behind bars; gibbons are housed on islands, bears and macaques have open-air enclosures and the lorises live in open tree enclosures. The “Jungle Island” where a group of gibbons live an almost completely wild existence in a large area of natural forest with very little human interference is the largest natural gibbon enclosure in Southeast Asia.
Some individuals of species have gone on to play vital roles in endangered species breeding programs at special breeding centres. Other animals such as lorises, leopard cats and civets have been released back into the wild following medical treatment and a period of proper care.
Learn about previous volunteer experiences at the sanctuary
Gibbon Rehabilitation Programme
The Wildlife Rescue Centre currently houses over 60 gibbons of 6 species. This includes the 3 species of gibbon native to Thailand, namely the white-handed or Lar gibbon Hylobates lar, the black-handed or agile gibbon Hylobates agilis and the pileated gibbon Hylobates pileatus.
Most of the gibbons live on islands situated in a large lake. On the medium sized islands, adults are kept in male-female pairs as they would be in the wild. On the larger “Jungle Island” and “Juvenile Islands” where there is more space gibbons are kept in small groups. The aim is to have all rescued gibbons at the centre living on islands.
On the islands the gibbons have very little human contact. They learn how live in the trees and are support fed high in the trees so they no longer have to come down to the ground. Living on the islands is the first step in rehabilitating gibbons and preparing them for possible future release into the wild, the ultimate goal of the Wildlife Friend’s gibbon reintroduction programme.
One group of gibbons lives ‘semi-wild’ on a large naturally forested island where they are still support fed but otherwise experience no human interference. Studies conducted on this group have confirmed that these gibbons spend almost all their time in the trees as they would in the wild and that they actively forage for food from the trees and have been observed eating insects and small animals.
The wildlife centre have been investigating potential release sites for the future release of a group of gibbons and have found a suitable location in the mountains approximately 4 km from the project. This area of protected forest does not contain any resident groups of wild gibbon and the habitat is suitable containing many species of trees in which the gibbons can forage.
The reintroduction of some gibbons back to the wild will take place only after thorough research is carried out into the candidate gibbons’ behaviour in terms of how well they are likely to be able to survive in the wild. Detailed surveys of the potential release site are also necessary before any release can be embarked upon, and a proper protection programme with ranger patrols needs to be secured as well as continuous monitoring of the released animals.
Need more information about volunteering in Thailand? Visit our Thailand Wildlife Rescue Fact File
EducationThe wildlife centre strongly believes that education is the most important aspect of our work in Thailand, and an effective educational programme is fundamental in order to change people’s attitudes towards animals and ultimately put an end to abusive practices involving animals and the exploitation of wild animals for the wildlife trade.
There is a large on-site education centre at the sanctuary, which aims to educate local people, international visitors and, most importantly, local children about the need to end animal abuse and conserve Thailand’s remaining wildlife. This contains detailed information about animal exploitation, animal welfare issues, the wildlife trade and the need for conservation. There are also a number of educational boards around the centre detailing species information and the individual animals’ stories.
The wildlife centre regularly visit schools and teach the children about animal welfare and conservation, and run educational programmes at the centre, explaining why the animals are here and why wild animals should not be kept as pets. We have also run camps for children in Kaeng Krachan National Park to teach children about the rainforest and Thailand’s wildlife.
CampaignsThe wildlife centre wish to expand their campaign against the exploitation of wild animals in the name of “entertainment”, for example performing animals, and to actively educate tourists about the cruelty involved in training monkeys, bears, elephants and snakes to perform in animal shows.
Wildlife Rapid Response Unit:
The clinic at the Quarantine Centre is adequately equipped to deal with some wildlife casualties and to provide subsequent medical care and allow the animal to recuperate. The full time veterinarian provides emergency care to all the animals under the care of the rescue centre along with help from the Thai vet technician.
We are always on standby to go to the aid of any wild animal needing help and take the relevant emergency medical kit with us. To date we have helped deer, lorises, macaques, gibbons, hog badgers, elephants and a variety of birds as well as some domestic animals that have required life-saving medical assistance.
The mobile clinic will be ready in February and will enable the centre to help out more animals with the centre’s resident veterinarian attending. This mobile unit should be ready to help out countrywide and will be Thailand’s first and only real mobile wildlife clinic.
Some of the Animals Stories
Bouncer - Asiatic black bearBouncer was caught in a bear trap by poachers at only a few months old. His front leg was irreparably damaged and had to be amputated.
He now lives in a huge enclosure at the sanctuary which he moves around with no problems and is quite a dominant bear - people often do not notice that he only has three legs!
Zach - White cheeked gibbonZach is a non-native species of gibbon and was smuggled from abroad into Thailand. He was rescued from a live animal market in Bangkok when he was very young. The staff at the sanctuary successfully hand reared Zach and he now lives in a group with other young gibbons.
John - Stump tailed macaqueJohn lived for 12 years in a tiny rubbish filled cage in a temple. He was very underweight and stressed on arrival at our conservation centre, pulling out his own fur, rocking back and forth and self abusing.
John's "stressed" behaviour has calmed now that he lives in a large enclosure at the sanctuary and he has become the alpha male in a family group.
Please be aware that the animals at the sanctuary do change and this is just a selection of the species at the project.