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The great gibbon fly-out

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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The great gibbon fly-out | Thaiger

PHUKET: A network of light aircraft owners known as the Flying Scouts are pitching in to save the environment through a number of innovative projects, one of which was a recent “gibbon airlift” from Phuket to the animals’ new home in Chiang Mai.

Most island residents are familiar with the good work done by the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (GRP) in Thalang. Established back in 1990, the GRP sanctuary and education center in the Khao Phra Thaew forest reserve in Pa Khlok is run by the Wild Animal Rescue Foundation, or WARF.

To those unfamiliar with the seamier side of Phuket’s tourism trade, cute baby gibbons are among the many animals that are poached from their natural habitats and used by touts as props to induce ignorant tourists to pay to have their pictures taken with them.

imageBobby and Songkran were the first gibbons reintroduced in Chiang Mai on June 14. Photo: Tom Potisit/Wild Animal Rescue Foundation Thailand

At the GRP facility, rescued gibbons are gradually moved further and further from humans until they are deemed fit to survive on their own, after which time they are released into the wild. The entire process can take five years because the baby gibbons’ mothers are typically shot dead in the process. Thus, their offspring become totally dependent on humans from an age when they should be learning how to forage, fend for themselves and survive in the wild.

When they reach maturity and grow canines at about six years of age, they can turn aggressive. Sadly, when they are not so cute anymore, their callous handlers often cage them, dump them or even kill them – and then go in search of a new baby.

Unfortunately, space is running out at Khao Phra Taew, the last place on the island with a suitable habitat for gibbons. The good news is that the WARF founders, including the late Tony Smallwood, spent years of research before finding a suitable forest up north, one with a local community committed to reintroducing gibbons that were poached into extinction in that region in the 1980s.

Tony, a keen aviator who sadly passed away last year, helped discover the village of Baan Chum Pee in the Mae On National Forest Reserve in the foothills of the Doi Saket hill range, where local villagers are solidly committed to protecting the reintroduced primates. Only village elders there are old enough to remember the morning call of the gibbons, and are now keen to rectify the mistakes of the past.

The final step in getting the gibbons back into the wild up north is problematic, as Chiang Mai is over 1,200 kilometers from Phuket and an arduous journey even by VIP bus. The move necessarily involves re-caging the gibbon pairs after they have finally gotten used to freedom – a traumatic experience to say the least.

Fortunately, members of The Flying Scouts made what could have been a miserable journey much easier by organizing a pilot (pardon the pun) “gibbon airlift”. One of The Flying Scouts trustees, who asked that his name not be published, spoke to the Phuket Gazette’s ‘Up In The Air’.

“For the initial gibbon airlift flights that were conducted from April 1 to 3, we used HS-TOM, a Piper Propjet. This is a single engine, six seat turboprop. We also plan to use a six-seat, twin engine Piper Comanche for future airlifts.

“Both Phuket Airpark and Nok Airfield in Chiang Mai kindly donated use of their facilities. We are also planning to soon use Best Ocean Airpark in Bangkok to airlift a sick female gibbon named Bambam that needs a cataract operation,” he added.

imageThe flight team (from left) WARF member Tom Potisit, pilot Eduardo Loigolli and co-pilot Mike Wilson of The Flying Scouts. Photo: Tom Potisit/Wild Animal Rescue Foundation Thailand

The WARF team had initially planned to release Bambam, her mate Santi and their male baby PeePoo. But due to the medical complications, another pair, Bobby and Songkran, were the first couple reintroduced.

“All of the gibbons were remarkably well behaved passengers, or “VIGs” [Very Important Gibbons] as I called them. Prior to loading them, they objected to the cage covers being placed over the cages the most. That was because it shut them in, preventing them from touching one another.”

“We have since modified the cages so that during the flight the side panels can be opened and they can see and touch each other. This is a learning process for us as well. They were a little subdued, but we had veterinarian Dr Suwit Punnadee on board to monitor them throughout the flight, feeding and reassuring them. To be honest they were no trouble at all, and did not make a mess,” said the trustee, who also piloted the aircraft.

Nok Flying Club member Mike Wilson from the US was also a key member of the team, serving as co-pilot. Together with his wife Harriet, they supplied custom built cages designed specifically for the airlift.

“Mike, a very experienced retired commercial training captain, was just one of a whole host of behind-the-scenes people who got involved to make this happen,” said the trustee.

For more information, links, updates and ways to get involved, visit: theflyingscouts.com; warthai.org; or gibbonproject.org

— Somchai Huasaikul

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Entertainment

Sex toys popular in Thailand despite conservative laws

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Sex toys popular in Thailand despite conservative laws | Thaiger
PHOTO: In Thailand, sex toys are very popular and very illegal.

While Thailand is a conservative country with conservative laws, the underground sex trade and sex toy economy is a thriving not-so-well-kept secret. Thailand is famous for its LGBTQ acceptance and red-light districts, but many don’t realise that most drugs, gambling, soliciting for prostitution, sex toys, and even vaping are against Thai law.

The customs department confiscated more than 4000 sex toys just last year, and owning or selling these toys carries a 60,000 baht fine or up to 3 years in jail. The strict laws are in place to align with the traditional Buddhist Thai society but seem very contrary to the underground sex industry Thailand is known for.

The need for sexual privacy rights and relaxed laws governing sex has been gaining popularity for years with the juxtaposition of strict laws and hedonism creating a very profitable black market. Bangkok’s red-light district is estimated to be worth US $6.4 billion, and in districts like Soi Cowboy, Nana, Patpong and Silom, sex trade and sex toys are sold openly even though it violates the law. The sex industry is thought to comprise up to 10% of Thailand’s gross domestic product. Then there’s Walking Street in Pattaya, Bangla Road in Phuket, etc, etc.

Still, Thailand is a Buddhist country with traditionally conservative values so laws are unlikely to change anytime soon. Even sex education in Thailand is geared towards the negative consequences of sex and not open to sexual rights or embracing sexuality, according to a UNICEF report in 2016. Those who oppose decriminalising sex toys and the sex industry believe that embracing it legally would lead to a rash of sex-related crimes.

Others argue that decriminalisation would be liberating and empower women by reducing the stigma of being sexually free. It would allow a modernized view on sexual well-being. It would also likely reduce teen pregnancy rates, by removing the negativity towards those who need or use contraceptive.

Nisarat Jongwisan has been fighting for the destigmatisation and legalisation of sex toys since 2018 when she appeared on a TV program speaking out against the Ministry of Culture. She now intends to use the Thai parliamentary mechanism for creating a petition and gathering 50,000 signatures, which would allow her to submit a bill to the parliament for a vote.

With strict laws, the black market will continue to grow. While sex toys and the sex trade can be criminalized, sexual desires are not easily quashed, and people will find ways to satisfy them. Without any regulation, black markets can profit freely, selling sex toys with no concern over fair pricing or quality control. The global sex toy industry sold nearly US $34 billion dollars last year, and with continued lockdown and the closures of entertainment venues, these sales are set to only increase, even in the face of Thailand’s conservative laws.

SOURCE: Vice

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Thai Life

“Mommy, there’s a snake!” – Expat in Phuket shares her story

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“Mommy, there’s a snake!” – Expat in Phuket shares her story | Thaiger
Pope's pit viper / Stock photo by Thai National Parks via Flickr

The following story was written by Amy Sukwan, an American who has been living in Thailand for 7 years.

To share a story with The Thaiger, click HERE.

“Mommy, there’s a snake!” my 8 year old daughter Eliza said, waking me up in the middle of the night.

I came out of our modest bungalow in Phuket at some unholy hour in the middle of the night, to see what my daughter’s whole “snake” thing was about. In the light of our front porch light, about 3 metres from our front door, 3 of our cats were surrounding something that looked at first to me to be a stack of rotting bananas.

“Eliza it’s nothing.” I tried to assure my daughter. Right at that moment the rotting bananas rose up into an aggressive posture as 3 cats circled it, hissing viciously. It was a surreal sight in the porch light.

“Mommy can you kill it!” My daughter begged me, as the thing, about four feet or over a meter long, lashed at one of our cats, who was quick enough to jump away. The snake had a big head that I could see in the porch light. It was distinctively mallet shaped, in what I was pretty sure was the viper class.

As much as I wanted to go back to sleep and pretend that this was all a bad nightmare, I now had a crying, frantic daughter who was terrified for her cats and a situation that I was quickly recognizing was pretty bad. Mai dee.

I needed to call in backup – my Thai husband. Eliza was already screaming his name. “Ka! Loon Ka!” My 8 year old screamed.


There are many venomous snakes in Thailand. Most people know about cobras but the viper class is the most deadly in the world, as vipers are both unpredictable and very difficult to charm. I was looking at a pit viper of some sort, I was pretty sure.

Snakes normally don’t bother you if you don’t bother them. But interactions are most common late in the dry season in Thailand, as it is now, in late March, as the snakes slither around houses in search of water. Thais don’t want them around for obvious reasons. You don’t want venomous snakes to breed and make babies close to your homestead.

If you are not sure if a snake is venomous or not, a good rule of thumb is to look at its head size in proportion to its body size. If the snake head is close to the same size as the rest of its body, and the snake is generally more wormlike in appearance, it is probably not venomous. If the head is large, say two or more times the diameter of the body, it might be poisonous. This does not constitute medical advice. If you get bitten by a snake, you should go to the hospital.


My husband woke up as Eliza was screaming for him. He came out groggily but as soon as my daughter pointed at the snake he saw the problem. “No good! I kill!” Ka said as he grabbed a machete from our kitchen rack. He wasted no time in coming to this decision.

So after being bathed in the surreal sight of three cats circling a hissing, striking, and very likely deadly serpent under our porch light, I got to be treated to an even weirder view. Ka went full Steve Irwin on the snake as he danced around with the machete. The viper sideswiped and tried to strike him. Then, it suddenly backlashed and made contact with his knee. Both me and Eliza cried out from the sidelines.

“She bit me!” Ka said as he macheted the viper’s mid body, and then its neck. Among my many shortcomings is a complete inability to gender snakes. So I will remain with my husband’s classification of the viper as female.

The snake stilled over the course of several minutes as my eight year old screamed in terror. It still seemed to be wiggling even five minutes later, though its body slowly stilled. Ka helped me put it in a plastic bag.

“You go hospital now!” I screamed at him.

“No worries. She don’t bite me with poison.” Ka seemed sure of this. He’d grown up on a 50 rai spread of backwoods in Phuket and was something of a designated snake killer.

My husband had tracked and killed a 5 foot long snake months before, which he had assured me had no poison, but which he had not wanted around the house. I was able to identify that one through Google images and a snake discussion group as an Indochinese Rat snake, which was indeed not venomous.

There was only one bite mark on his knee the viper had come in from an unusual angle and only one fang had punctured through. But I could see from closer inspection of the now dead snake what I had already known. It looked like a dark green Pit Viper. She was about 4 feet long, or maybe 130 centimetres. The poor girl had probably been looking for water.

Symptoms of a poisonous snake bite include pain at the site, swelling, and changes in heart rate or breathing. Needless to say Ka is still alive and well, and probably had enough experiences of snakes to know that this was a dry bite, or one without venom, as about 50% of snake bites are. I wouldn’t have taken my chances on this, though.

The reason that poisonous baby snakes are thought to be more deadly is not because they have more venom, but because they always release venom when they do bite. I prayed in Buddhist style for the snake to have a better life next time, as she had made merit by not killing either our cats or my husband. But for the amateurs out there, I wouldn’t advise going to Steve Irwin about these things. Normally snakes bite you because you bother them.


It turns out that sometimes you chase the story. And sometimes the story chases you.

I’d seen a recent post on The Thaiger asking for guest bloggers to share their stories regarding Thailand. I think I laughed out loud on reading it. After 7 years in the “Land of Smiles,” with 2 Thai husbands and after giving birth to 2 children here, I’d like to think I’ve seen it all. I probably have 10,000 stories.

But what do I want to write about? Should I mention my early days as a farang in Thailand, during the time when I was working as an OPC for a timeshare? Do I want to give advice on making visas, as an American staying in Thailand or for a Thai going to America? Should I talk about going to Thai hospitals? Or maybe I should write something about Thai Buddhist funeral proceedings? I’ve put my first husband and both my mother and father in law in the ground at Wat Prathong. Should I talk about ASQ and travelling during Covid madness? Or should I mention the Full Moon Party on Koh Pha Ngan? I’ve been to five of those, personally.

This weekend I was harvesting cashew fruit with a Thai friend of ours in Phuket who has a large spread of family land. We burnt the cashew nuts, and I thought that this would make a great story, as many farang ask me about growing and harvesting practices in my little outback area. Unfortunately a quick Google search revealed that cashew nuts are dangerous, even to people without allergies, as they contain a chemical close to poison ivy. Only professional processors should deal with cashew nuts, in short. I’ve been eating the fruit and burning the nuts for years. But I gathered that life is too dangerous. So much for that story.

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Food Scene

Thai Airways food landing in 7-Eleven next month

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Thai Airways food landing in 7-Eleven next month | Thaiger
PHOTO: Yum yum, it's airline food 'on the go'

Warning. Some low-altitude turbulence is coming to a 7-Eleven near you. Thai Airways has cooked up a new money-making scheme during Covid-19 to sell its airline food in 7-Eleven. Set to take off on April 15, the mostly grounded and indebted airline will attempt to offset its losses during the pandemic by selling food in the ubiquitous convenience store and other supermarkets throughout Thailand.

It’s a clever strategy for a struggling company, but will customers take the bite? Surely a few crispy pork and rice dishes will knock the edge of that 300 billion baht debt!

Claiming that their busy flight schedule has always previously stood in the way of the airline’s foray into the fast food market, Thai Airways now has the supply (and time) with most flights grounded by the pandemic’s decimation of the travel industry and less hungry mouths to feed in the sky.

The first meals schedule to arrive on the shelves of 7-Eleven just after the Songkran holiday are Thai Airways’ halal chicken biryani dish, and the traditional Thai dish nam phrik long ruea, crispy and fluffy fish and sweet pork served in a fermented shrimp chilli paste. The primary push into the food industry will be more unusual meals to stand out in 7-Eleven’s selection.

The question remains whether the food selection will fly off the shelves, but the airline’s hopes are high after their airline launched pop-up restaurants in September and the public ate it up. It seems that, contrary to a million stand-up comedy jokes about how terrible airline food is, people have really missed it with so much cancelled travel due to border closures and restrictions.

Thai Airways hopes this creative departure from their main business will help bolster the struggling airline, who were previously denied a government bailout after declaring bankruptcy last year. They have tried everything from the pop-up restaurants to jumbo yard sales to renting out flight simulators. Even with the sharp reduction of flights due to the pandemic, flying will still be the company’s main mealticket, but they hope meal sales will make up for low ticket sales until the travel industry recovers.

So stow your tray table and fasten your seat belt as we see if the 7-Eleven offerings of Thai Airways’ food takes off.

(The Thaiger has a better solution. Let 7-Eleven lease Thai Airway’s grounded planes and run the whole business instead)

SOURCE: Coconuts Bangkok

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