Gibbon problem returns to Patong

PATONG: The problem of gibbons being hawked around Patong for photo opportunities has returned after a two-year absence. Over the past two weeks gibbons and their handlers have started to reappear, particularly around Soi Bangla.

The problem had previously been cleared up by the Wildlife Conservation Office (WCO) which carried out a campaign to confiscate illegally-held gibbons and house them in rehabilitation centers.

Any individual who wants to own a wild animal must apply for a permit from the WCO. The Office, however, stopped granting permits in 2004. Therefore, the only legally-kept wild animals are ones that were registered in 2004 or before.

Because the gibbons used in the tourist trade are all young animals they are most likely to have been caught illegally in the wild since that time, explained Awat Nitikul, the Chief of the WCO in Phuket.

“We know the animals used in the tourist trade are not held legally because they are not old enough. We are hindered in our work by owners who claim that they have permits for their animals even though we are sure the permits they have are for different animals. We then have to take the owners to court.”

He also complained about the lack of assistance from police. “The WCO cannot catch all the offenders itself. The police have the power to arrest offenders, but they do not seem to have the will to do so,” he added.

“We hope conservationists will put their trust in us. We will try our best to solve this problem. We need people to help us by informing us immediately if they encounter wild animals being used illegally.

“We do not have a policy to install microchips in protected species, but we can inspect them and if they are being kept illegally we can confiscate them. If the owners surrender their animals willingly, they will not be prosecuted,” K. Awat concluded.

The WCO works on the conservation of more than 100 species of endangered animals in Thailand including gibbons, pythons and sea eagles, the species most often used by photo touts.

The office, however, cannot do anything to protect imported animals that are not native to Thailand, such as iguanas.

To contact the WCO, call Tel: 076-311998 during government office hours or K. Awat, at Tel: 06-6897040, after hours.

Phuket News
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