Go EAST: Gibbon Sanctuary

dao tien

Looking back on Dao Tien Island

One weekend we decided to make the motorbike journey over to Cat Tien National Park to do some camping, hiking, and fireside drinking– in the peace of the the jungle & out of the city! I had no clue what we would get ourselves into, and never expected to be as touched as I was while staying at the national park. On our last day we heard from two girls the next tent over about a gibbon sanctuary across the river that was a ‘must-do‘. With no plans, a day with the gibbons sounded great.

Gibbon_.jpg

Swinging & Singing all day.. pretty good life!

The gibbon sanctuary is called EAST  & is home to a group of dedicated volunteers & trained employees who are rehabilitating Vietnam’s rescued gibbons with the hopes of releasing them back to the wild where they belong swinging & singing in the trees. Tickets to the center can be bought at the camp’s front desk for $10/each with all the money going towards the gibbons. The sanctuary is a 5 minute boat ride away to an island (Dao Tien) across the river, as we docked we could hear the calls & singing of the gibbons hidden somewhere in trees around us. We were greeted by the Stephanie upon arrival, who has devoted the last few years of her life to the gibbons on the island. She spoke of them like a proud mama excitedly darting information off to us about each one’s unique story, characteristics, & heart breaking tale of their past bringing them to the island. Gibbons are endangered, and keeping them in captivity as a pet or as show and tell in a gas station to make money out of tourists is illegal. The problem is getting the law enforcement to do their job & make it illegal. With the help of the rehab center gibbons that are taken out of the hands of these heartless people can now be safely placed in the care of EAST. The center has 3 phases that gibbons must progress through before they can be released, the last is phase 3 which is on the outskirts of the island were the gibbons are on their own away from people & monitored from a distance by the staff.  Each gibbon has an unbelievable story some were in school nurseries and acted as play dolls for the kids, some were caged in markets, and many were put on show at gas station stops for the ‘oh‘ & ‘ah‘ of tourists.

One of the stories really bewildered me about one particular gibbon & his mate, their names are Da & Lat. Gibbons mate for life (how cute?!) & this particular pair have now started their own little family at EAST after being caged up for over a decade at a gas station. The male (Da) was kept in a cage for 18 years! Breaks my heart. They were kept in cages next to each other separated by a mesh netting & could often be seen trying to cuddle each other through the netting– some might say, love at first sight. When they were finally rescued and brought to the rehab center, Da was a mess. He had been in a cage his whole life, he didn’t know what being a gibbon meant, he didn’t know he was suppose to live in the trees, & swing to the heavens.. his whole life was being poked and prodded at by ignorant tourists behind closed bars. The female (Lat) took to the rehab center at once swiftly swinging, regained her strength, and reclaiming her ‘gibbon-hood’. The gibbons song is very important and much more than the noise and ruckus it sounds like– it marks their territory, claims their mate, puts their strength & confidence on show for all others to hear. The song is a duet between the male & female, each have their own part & sing it loud and proud. Da was to weak to sing when he arrived to the center, and when it came time for him to sing his part Lat would bust through and take over for him. She didn’t want the other gibbons to hear how weak he was! Stephanie told us how blown away the staff were by Lat’s protectiveness over her mate. When Da finally regained his strength & confidence the staff were overjoyed to hear him finally sing his part in the song. The pair have now moved on to Phase 2 of rehabilitation, have a baby, and are looking to be released into the wild within the next year.  I think the story is touching enough to be on Oprah!

Read all of the stories of  EAST’s gibbons here.

gibbon sanctuary

One of the observatory areas at EAST

After leaving the sanctuary I was so captivated by the gibbon’s stories & the work of the staff, I just wanted to do more. My bank account tells me that spreading the word to people about the treatment of primates, and scolding those who put primates on show is my best option. I tore many a man a new @$$hole in India for parading monkeys around on leashes trying to get tourists to have their photos taken for a small fee. If their is NO MARKET than it won’t happen. It’s not cute to have a dirty, poor little monkey on your shoulder for 25 cents that belongs in the trees free and away from people. Tell the person with the monkey you don’t like it, & refuse a picture than maybe it will stop happening so much. This website http://www.monkeyworld.org/contact-us.htm also allows people to take sneaky photos of these monkeys on display with as much information as you can provide & they will try and go in, save the monkey & help the person find a living a different way like showing tourists where they live & taking them on a small tour of an area– something that doesn’t involve a monkey on a leash.

I highly recommend a trip to EAST, it is barely advertised, I would have left the national park without even knowing it existed if I hadn’t chatted with the girls tenting next to us. All the information you need to know about the center is on their website, http://www.go-east.org/ & it is easily accessed from Cat Tien National Park in South Vietnam. The park is trying their best to save more primates than just the gibbon and have 4 different primates they work with. The gibbons just happen to be the ones put on show for tourists too much of the time, who need people like the staff of EAST to help them remember what being a gibbon is and soar high in the sky, swinging, and singing their way through the trees.

Here’s a video I found on youtube to give you an idea of just how loud & unique the gibbon’s song really is!

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Comments
4 Responses to “Go EAST: Gibbon Sanctuary”
  1. alexaabroad says:

    Oh, what a sad and sweet story! The work these folks are doing sounds amazing. I actually really enjoyed the gibbon song video–didn’t sound like racket to me at all (though I can see how a chorus of it would)

  2. Su Hawn says:

    Really touching story about Da and Lat, I had no idea there was that much of an exploitation of gibbons or other primates. Thanks for sharing this info and opening my and others’ eyes! Keep up the good work and safe travels 🙂

  3. What an interesting post. Gibbons have so much character. So often people write about Orangutans in Borneo or Sumatra but the plight of these Gibbons is fascinating.

    Regards, Si

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  1. […] endangered specie proudly sing all morning long. Read all about these fuzzy little creatures, here. Bet you can't even see our camouflaged […]



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