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South Africans confident of ‘Monkey Island’ Plan

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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South Africans confident of ‘Monkey Island’ Plan | Thaiger

PHUKET: Two South African conservationists who hope to open a Monkey Island primate sanctuary off Phuket paid a visit to Phuket Governor Niran Kalayanamit, but their goal to open the center as a new tourist attraction by the end of next year still has a lot of red tape to clear before becoming a reality.

Zambian-born Tony Blignaut, CEO of Primates Resort Limited, and his partner Ronald Derek Taurog of the ‘Touch a Monkey’s Heart Foundation’ met with Gov Niran yesterday morning.

The South Africans last September applied for permission to develop a community-based project incorporating two small islands – Koh Aew and Koh Tanan – off Phuket’s southeast coast.

The project would not leave any development “footprint” on the islands themselves, Mr. Blignaut said.

The project’s goal is conservation of primate species and other wildlife, increasing environmental awareness and supporting Phuket’s tourism industry, he added.

The pair hope to open an attraction similar to their Monkeyland and Birds on Eden sanctuaries in South Africa’s Plettenberg Bay, which have become major tourist attraction since they first opened in 1998.

The investors envision setting Koh Aew up as a world-class primate research facility, where access would be restricted to primate academics, this would place Thailand right at the fore-front of primate conservation in the World.

Tourists would have access to view the primates only at tiny Koh Tanan in Chalong Bay, where a pier 60 meters long would serve as a sort of “shopfront” for the main sanctuary.

For a fee, tourists could view some 30 primates on display there or enjoy a meal or visit any of 40 stalls to be run by local people, who would not be required to pay rent.

The local community in Chalong has expressed strong initial support for the project, which would be of particular benefit to longtail boatmen in Chalong Bay, Mr Blignaut said.

Mr Blignaut said he hoped to develop Koh Aew as a world leader in primate conservation and maintain healthy populations of various species there until such time as they can be successfully reintroduced into the wild – a process that could take hundreds, or even 1,000 years, he said.

“Since our application last year, the governor has appointed a working committee to consider the project. The committee has already considered the environmental impacts of the project. We also have a team from Prince of Songkla University in Haad Yai helping us study the environmental impact, both on land and in the sea,” he said.

The researchers, who need to conclude two more surveys, are expected to submit their findings in September, he said.

Strict environmental controls, would be put in place on both islands and strict quarantine procedures would be maintained to prevent the spread of simian diseases, he added.

To move forward, the project will need the support and permission of Wichit and Rawai Municipalities as well as a host of other government agencies.

Another matter that would have to be worked out would be whether the islands would be rented or the government would allow them to be used under a public-private investment scheme.

Despite the obstacles, Mr Blignaut seems confident of success.

“We expect that the project will be ready to open sometime between April and December next year,” he said.

“We estimate the total investment at about US$3 million. We are a non-profit organization, but we realize that conservation has to pay for itself. Our main goal is preserving primates, not return on investment – but whatever the cost is, we will find a way to come up with the money,” he said.

However, speaking with reporters a short time later, Gov Niran said that completing all the bureaucratic hurdles would be a long and difficult process.

The South Africans might have become unduly optimistic of success after the committee to study their proposal was formed, he added.

Both Wichit and Rawai municipalities already have their own plans to beautify the two islands and develop them into tourist attractions, he said.

“In my opinion, tourism promotion and development is always a positive thing, but the Thai government’s administrative system can cause many difficulties for potential investors,” he said.

 

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