Gozoobrah - seeing gibbons the local way
Ya tee go zoo brah go mah nee (“I see gibbons everyday”)
Oh, ah go zoo brah me law Roger (“Oh, there’s a gibbon named Roger”)
These are the general reactions of the local Karen villagers about the topic of gibbons, giving the less experienced GVI volunteers false impression that they are abundant throughout our surrounding forests. We were beginning to think these creatures mythical.
But… Gibbons! We finally spotted the elusive White-Handed Gibbons!
Despite the frequent sightings by the more experienced Karen villagers and their jaded reactions, these are particularly special sightings for conservationists as these amazing creatures are marked as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ (IUCN) Red List. In Thailand alone, there has been estimated a population of only 15,000 (as of 2010) and a 50% population decline over the last 45 years.
The day started off early with a small group of us headed down to one of our four biodiversity trails, River Trail, with the intent to do some bird watching and butterfly identification. What we all secretly hoped, but dared not say out loud in fear of jinxing our luck, was to spot a gibbon. (There were rumors that volunteers had already spotted the gibbons earlier in the week on the same trail. This, of course, is all speculation since all they came back with were stories; not pictures.) We diligently worked on our biodiversity data and at marker 600m was when we first heard their signature calls. Loud and irregular, we could not mistake their calls for the similar bird calls of the Greater Coucal. The trail was hot and we ceased to talk to ensure they did not flee.
But it was too late. Much to our dismay, the calls stopped through the rest of the hike. We had lost them. We postulated that the loud calls were warning calls announcing our arrival and they had fled. As a consolation prize, we pulled out our snacks and feasted at the 1000m marker. We sat for about 20 minutes in silence and surprisingly, the calls began again…right above our very heads! We got up and began wandering closer to the calls. They were piercing.
Next thing you know, we heard something in the brush and I felt Judy, the volunteer on hike, grab my arm in excitement and alarm. The three of us stopped short and a black fuzzy blob ran across us on the ground and up to the base of a nearby tree. By the time my eyes caught up to the creature, its big black shining eyes were already fixated on us. This young gibbon was just as curious about us as we were it! We stayed within plain sight (about 15m away) of this gibbon for about 45 minutes. The photographs were a plenty, but we were also aware there were at least two other gibbons about, so we left the young gibbon in search for the others.
The best we got was a sighting of a white gibbon by Amy, our hike leader. It was swinging swiftly through the trees and both Judy and I had missed it. It was a minor disappointment, but not enough to sway our excitement of the original sighting.
Since that day, groups of volunteers have spotted the gibbons from afar five more times. Our mahouts tell us that the sightings will increase as we approach cold season. Let’s hope this is the start of a regular pattern – not just because White-Handed Gibbons are absolutely amazing animals to watch in their natural habitats, but because there really is no better feeling than walking back to Base with our Gibbon-sighting pride, ready to gloat…just a little bit.
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