Wednesday 2 October 2019

Memories of wild animals in Thailand

Reliving the distant memories of a childhood in Thailand, fast-forwarding two decades to the memories of revisiting the place I was born and then snapping forward another two decades into today's experiences, I am left wondering what happened to the wild animals of Thailand.

Monkey training on Koh Samui 

On my journeys into Thailand and rediscovering the memories of my youth, I often wondered of the wild animals that once roamed freely throughout dense jungles of the kingdom; tigers, black panthers and spotted leopards, deer, snakes, birds, monkeys and the myriad of insect life.  Elephants and buffaloes for hundreds of years have been enslaved to the greater human needs but the more exotic animals I suspect, based upon the length of teeth and related ferocity, have been hunted out of existence as farming and urbanisation took over once pristine jungles.

Certainly, there are still snakes of all sorts as there are birds. Of insect, reptilian, amphibian and fish life forms, one only needs to visit any of Thailand's thousands of fresh food markets and street vendors to know what has befallen the populations of wildlife...  As there are mouths to feed, there are uncountable recipes for any of the above and more unmentioned animals.  One thing for sure though, most Thais don't like snakes and give them a wide berth should any be encountered.  By the very nature of snakes and Thai peoples' disdain of them, it could be said that their future in the wild is assured.

Of monkeys, I am not so sure of their existence in the wild except to say they still remain in the small town of Lopburi, just north of Bangkok.  There, outside the railway station is a large statue of a monkey, attesting to that very fact that this is where monkeys live. Pulling up at the railway station, one can be greeted by the "oh so usual sight" of people leaning on or squatting along a concrete wall and wooden picket fence, while interspersed between them will be any number of monkeys...Person, monkey, person, person, monkey, person, monkey, monkey, person...

Other than that, I recalled that monkeys abound in Koh Samui and the island's large coconut industry.  To find out if that was still the case, I decided to venture to the Gulf of Siam and explore Koh Samui.

Arriving at the airport aboard a domestic Thai Airways flight, I was greeted by the slap of extreme humidity that instantly replaced the gentler embrace of the airconditioned aeroplane's interior during my brief flight from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport to the island.  Outside of the airport and on the way to my hotel, I totally forgot about monkeys and the once-thriving coconut industry as I became concerned about my own existence in the face of a barrage of motorcycles, racing shuttle buses, cars and trucks all vying for the same strip of concrete which lines the entire island.

Not a coconut could be seen being delivered...where there used to be an island industry of coconuts, many of the lands used for that have now been turned into resorts, urban complexes and shopping centres.  The industry has been sidelined in favour of the tourist dollar.  So too have the monkeys of Samui been sidelined.  Where before there used to be a laid back island lifestyle of gentlefolk and monkeys going about the toils of gathering coconuts for a living, Koh Samui's monkeys are so few now, relegated to performing shows of agricultural history.

Waking up early on the last morning of my stay at the island, I heard what sounded like a monkey calling out.  Further off in the distance, I heard another return the call.  Yawning, I thought I might have been imagining things as surely they were birds of some sort...