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The stork and the snail

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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The stork and the snail | The Thaiger

PHUKET: As we all know to our cost, snails are the gardener’s bane. Today’s subject, however, is not about the common or garden variety creature that hides in the day and slides and slithers around at night to devour your seedlings, but another, more exotic species. Perhaps it merits a less disparaging mention in dispatches.

The species in question is the golden apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata), one of the largest freshwater molluscs in the world. Maybe beautiful is the wrong epithet to use for a snail, but in truth, it is rather special. Usually bright golden-yellow, but also almost any other color including pink or purple and with or without dark bands. Up to 15 centimeters across, the snail inhabits watery abodes, and if you are a Thai rice farmer, you may have mixed feelings about this gargantuan creature, because it has shown itself capable of climbing out of its natural element and gorging on tender rice shoots. On the other hand, if you are a gourmet, you may well enjoy a repast of these very unusual “escargots“.

So too the Asian openbill stork. This large bird, in common with two North American birds, the snail kite and a rail-like wader called the limpkin, feeds almost exclusively on the golden apple snail. This mollusc’s relatively recent arrival in Thailand is linked to its introduction to Taiwan in the 1980s, where it was apparently intended both as a protein-rich addition to the diet of poor farmers, and a new gustatory delight. In the way of these things, this intrepid snail, which has both gills like a fish, lungs for normal aspiration, and an operculum – a film which closes the shell’s opening and enables it to survive in drought conditions – migrated to the rest of South East Asia and homed in on the lush paddy fields of central Thailand.

The Asian openbill stork, which appears to have a sixth sense in regard to the existence of this special food source, has detected this expansionist pattern and has followed the rovings of these succulent morsels. Indeed, a recent sighting of a huge mustering of these birds in South Phuket, estimated to number between five and six hundred, offers at least circumstantial evidence of the golden apple snail’s residency here. I myself saw a huge drift of storks soaring and circling on thermals some days ago, without my being aware of precisely what kind of bird they were. A friend who had seen hundreds of large grayish-white birds with glossy black wings patrolling a patch of lake and swamp inland from Rawai Beach, also asked me about them. A large flock had also been sighted by bird-watchers, on December 17, foraging on low-lying, boggy land near Ya Nui beach.

Initially unsure of their identity, I decided to consult an ornithologist who is a keen and expert observer of Thailand’s birdlife. Derek Evans promptly wrote back, saying that he had seen the storks in various locations, and quoted another authority, Dr PD Round, who offered confirmation of Derek’s view that the bird in question was indeed the Asian openbill stork (Anastomus oscitans). He noted that they are now “spreading throughout Thailand from [their] former heartland in the lower central plains around Bangkok, encouraged by the spread of irrigation for rice multi-cropping”, and added significantly, “in tandem with the spread of the golden apple snail”.

Paradoxically, there are hardly any paddy fields in Phuket, so the snail threat to rice farmers is minimal. But the few remaining areas of marsh are disappearing fast, including the wetland near Ya Nui beach. At this very moment, this precious habitat is being destroyed, as “developers” tip rubbish on the lush, bog-land vegetation in an attempt to prepare the site for – yes you’ve guessed it – yet another concrete jungle.

One can only conjecture how the snails have arrived here – if indeed they have. Perhaps the snail’s eggs, which are laid in sticky clumps out of the water to avoid predators such as newts and frogs, may have been transported on the legs and feet of fellow waders such as herons or egrets, even conceivably in their innards.

More extravagantly, they may have arrived here as a consequence of the pet fish trade, for these monster snails are sometimes found, along with ornamental fish, in aquarium tanks, where they are useful disposers of algae. Thence to fish ponds and beyond is no great leap. Anecdotally, my partner swears her brother used to catch these creatures as a boy in Trang (on the mainland south of Phuket) where they were much prized as a delicacy, and according to local lore, had hallucinogenic properties. She added that they had vanished years ago. Unsurprising….

Coincidentally and in the view of specialist Dr David R.Wells, the presence of these storks may be part of a wider pattern, “a more general expansionist trend among South East Asian large, inland water birds over recent years… Black-winged Stilts, breeding populations of Little and Cattle Egrets… the consequence of as yet unidentified cultural and socio/economic changes… that deserve urgent investigation.”

Maybe the golden apple snail deserves to be part of this important and ongoing saga. My pious hope is that the snail is already here – and here to stay.

If you have a question or a garden that you would like featured, you can email the author here.

Keep checking our online Phuket Lifestyle pages or join our Facebook fan page for regular gardening features and tips.

This article appears in the current (May 4-10, 2013) issue of the hard-copy Phuket Gazette newspaper, now on sale at newsstands throughout the island. Digital subscribers may download the full newspaper, this week and every week, by clicking here.

— Patrick Campbell

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

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Thailand

21% of Thai teenagers are gambling

Greeley Pulitzer

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21% of Thai teenagers are gambling | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Gambling, local style, Rai Et, north-east Thailand – Pinterest

Early in October the Thai Health Promotion Foundation met to discuss the gambling situation in Thailand in 2019. Also present were the Centre for Gambling Studies, Stop Gambling Foundation and related groups.

The meeting was set up after a report revealed that more than half (57%) of the Thai population, or 30.42 million people, gamble. The director-general of the Centre for Gambling Studies at Chulalongkorn University shared the report, which was based on data from a survey of 44,050 people across 77 provinces.

The figure is an increase of 1.49 million people from 2017. While most Thai gamblers are of working age, 2.4% of the total were aged between 15-18 years. This means that 21% of that age group are gambling.

According to California’s Council on Problem Gambling, youth, like everyone else, gamble for many reasons, including entertainment; socialisation; competition; loneliness, and boredom; to get rich quick; to impress others; be the centre of attention; make new friends, and because winning provides an instant, temporary boost of confidence.

“The California Council on Problem Gambling lists depression as one reason youth turn to gambling, noting that depression can just as easily be an effect as a cause. This is especially important to note in a country like Thailand.”

In an article in The ASEAN Post, it was noted that in December 2017, Thailand’s Department of Mental Health (DMH) reported that an estimated one million teenagers are believed to suffer from depression, many of whom go untreated, with two million more are at risk, making upward of three million among a population of eight million teens then.

The DMH said that stress and anxiety may affect a student’s ability to concentrate and perform well at school, and they may show several warning signs, such as lack of attention, loss of interest in daily activities, lethargy, sadness, and sleeping issues.

“It is clear from studies that depression and gambling go hand-in-hand: the unfortunate case in Thailand is that it is affecting children too.”

SOURCE: The ASEAN Post

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Bangkok

Professor: Military government too interested in tourism – not people’s welfare

Greeley Pulitzer

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Professor: Military government too interested in tourism – not people’s welfare | The Thaiger

A professor of Rangsit University has criticised the previous military government for focusing too much on tourism and not enough on the welfare of the Thai people. The professor was speaking at Chulalongkorn University at a seminar discussing street stalls and urban development.

She questioned the National Council for Peace and Order’s policy of clearing street vendors in all but a few areas such as Yaowarat and Khao San Road that mainly cater to tourists.

She claimed that the NCPO – in power since the coup of 2014 until this year’s election – was more interested in economic development through tourism than in the welfare of the public.

Having affordable street food options was not just about tourism, she said, it was vital for poor workers who have migrated from the countryside, adding that it was part of an informal rather than a formal economy.

“For years people had earned their living from selling goods and services, including food, on the streets.”

This in turn provided an affordable option to eat for workers who came to Bangkok on for large investment projects. The issue, she said, was not just about tourism but the wider economy that might benefit.

The professor noted that CNN had once called Bangkok the best place in the world for street food but this had changed with the sanitized food trucks that have appeared since stalls and vendors were banned from most areas.

The Thaiger notes that banning street vendors has divided the capital. Many are happy that the sidewalks are easier to navigate, but others – including tourists – have said that the lifeblood and character of the city has suffered.

SOURCE: Naew Na | ThaiVisa Forum

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Chiang Rai

Journey back to Tham Luang in ‘The Cave’ – VIDEO

The Thaiger

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Journey back to Tham Luang in ‘The Cave’ – VIDEO | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Tom Waller on site during the filming of The Cave – AFP

Determined divers racing against time. Rising waters threatening lives. 12 teenagers and their soccer coach trapped inside for two weeks. A remote cave that most had never heard of.

The stuff of a Hollywood drama, except that it’s all true and happened in Chiang Rai last year. Now the first of several re-tellings of the story comes to the big screen in The Cave.

The ordeal in late June and early July last year had barely ended when filmmakers began their own race to get the nail-biting drama onto cinema screens. The first of those projects premiered at the start of October, when director Tom Waller’s The Cave showed at the Busan Film Festival in South Korea.

The film was shot over three months earlier this year and has been in post-production since then. The 45 year old Thai-British filmmaker says the epic tale of the Wild Boars (Mu Pa) football team was a story he simply had to tell.

“I took the view that this was going to be a story about the people we didn’t know about, about the cave divers who came all the way from across the planet.”

The 13 young men entered the Tham Luang cave complex after soccer practice and were quickly trapped inside by rising floodwater. The boys were forced to spend nine nights lost in the cave, whilst Navy Seal and other diver searched frantically, before they were spotted by a British diver.

It would take another eight days before they were all safe, against all odds, in a risky mission.

Waller was visiting his father in Ireland when he saw television news accounts of the drama.

“I thought this would be an amazing story to tell on screen.”

But putting the parts together after their dramatic rescue proved to be a challenge. Thailand’s government, led by the military NCPO, became very protective of the story, barring unauthorised access to the Mu Pa team or their parents. Waller often feared his production might be shut down.

His good fortune was that the events at the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province had multiple angles and interesting characters. Especially compelling were the stories of the rescuers, particularly the expert divers who rallied from around the world. He decided to make a film “about the volunteer spirit of the rescue.”

Other people proposed telling the story from the point of view of the boys, and Netflix nailed down those rights in a deal brokered by the Thai government.

“I took the view that this was going to be a story about the people we didn’t know about, about the cave divers who came all the way from across the planet. They literally dropped everything to go and help, and I just felt that that was more of an exciting story to tell, to find out how these boys were brought out and what they did to get them out.”

Waller even had more than a dozen key rescue personnel play themselves.

Waller said they were natural actors, blending in almost seamlessly with the professionals around them, and helped by the accuracy of the settings and the production’s close attention to detail.

“What you are really doing is asking them to remember what they did and to show us what they were doing and what they were feeling like at the time. That was really very emotional for some of them because it was absolutely real.”

Waller says his film is likely to have a visceral effect on some viewers, evoking a measure of claustrophobia.

“It’s a sort of immersive experience with the sound of the environment, you know, the fact that is very dark and murky, that the water is not clear.”

“In Hollywood films, when they do underwater scenes, everything is crystal clear. But in this film it’s murky and I think that’s the big difference. This film lends itself to being more of a realistic portrayal of what happened.”

Some scenes were filmed on location at the entrance to the actual Tham Luang cave, but most of the action was shot elsewhere.

“We filmed in real water caves that were flooded, all year-round. It is very authentic in terms of real caves, real flooded tunnels, real divers and real creepy-crawlies in there. So it was no mean feat trying to get a crew to go and film in these caves.”

The Cave goes on general release in Thailand on November 28.

ORIGINAL ARTICE: Associated Press | Time.com

Journey back to Tham Luang in 'The Cave' - VIDEO | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Tom Waller – Associated Press/Sakchai Lalit

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