When government officials spotted someone suspicious trying to sell the contents of a cardboard box, they were immediately concerned. But nothing could have prepared them for what they found inside. What they saw, after all, told them that something dreadful had happened.
The Laos Wildlife Rescue Center (LWRC) is situated just under 40 miles from the country’s capital city of Vientiane and is the only dedicated wildlife rescue organization in Laos. Therefore, the work its team does to protect animals is invaluable.
In February 2017 government officials contacted the center. It seemed that they had been working in the Xaisomboun Province of Laos when they’d come across a cardboard box. And what they had found inside had broken all of their hearts.
The government representatives requested that staff from the LWRC made their way to the site. So, with no time to lose, a team from the center set out on the 400-mile journey to help. All the officials could do then was wait until the experts arrived.
Some people would consider the seized haul to be valuable. Nonetheless, whoever had initially obtained it had broken the law. Not only that, but it was also likely that they’d been involved in immense cruelty. Often, capturing this lucrative kind of loot causes severe suffering.
That’s because the cardboard box contained a juvenile northern white-cheeked gibbon. When the LWRC team arrived on the scene, they found the primate clutching a blue blanket. The government officials had given the frightened creature the item in a bid to keep him comfortable until help arrived.
So the rescuers got to work helping the little gibbon. The team vet gave him a full check-up and found that he was, thankfully, in good health. However, he’d likely been through an awful lot of tragedy and heartache in the short time he’d been alive.
The government officials explained to the LWRC team how they had retrieved the poor primate from traffickers. The culprits had been trying to sell the animal as a pet or a tourist attraction. And, sadly, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence in Laos.
“Young gibbons in Laos, and right across South East Asia, are highly sought within the illegal wildlife trade as pets or photo prop animals for tourists to pose with,” explained a statement on the LWRC Facebook page in February 2017. It continued, “Sadly, it is likely his parents were shot and killed by hunters in an effort to secure him to sell.”
What makes the whole situation even more heartbreaking is the fact that gibbons live in close-knit communities. Baby gibbons will stay with their parents for as long as six years until they are able to reproduce. The apes subsequently pair up with one partner and mate for life.
The rescuers named this baby gibbon Ee Ooo because of the noises he made. The team then transported him to the LWRC where they could look after him properly. But although he was in the best possible hands, it seemed that nothing could cure Ee Ooo of his sadness.
“In the wild, young gibbons stay with their family unit, consisting of their mother, father, and older siblings, who stay with their parents until they find their own territories, for up to six years, which means our newest rescue is far from being independent,” a LWRC statement explained. “At his young age, he should still be hanging onto his mother’s chest in the rainforest.”
“Since his arrival, he has been unable to part with his blue blanket that the government gave him for warmth,” the statement continued. “Sadly, he continues cling onto and suckle on his blanket in absence of his mother’s companionship. The rescue team has left this with him as a source of comfort in his new environment.”
So the LWRC team did all they could to make Ee Ooo feel at home, and volunteers bottle-fed him milk to make him big and strong. They also planned to build him a monkey gym and teach him how to swing like a gibbon should.
When Ee Ooo is fully grown, however, safe places where he can be rereleased could be few and far between. What’s more, northern white-cheeked gibbons like him are regarded as being critically endangered. That’s because their population has declined by 80 percent in the last 45 years.
Gibbons face a number of threats, including mass deforestation. Hunters also target the animals for use in food and medicines. Then, of course, there’s the illegal pet trade. The situation isn’t helped by local communities’ lack of awareness of the gibbons’ plight.
While there are some protected areas of forests, they are often badly managed. Furthermore, wildlife protection measures are not widely enforced by officials. So, as part of their efforts, the LWRC is working alongside the government to protect more gibbons than ever before.
In February 2017 the center had a total of six gibbons in its care. As a result, it has been forced to invest in a specialist enclosure. “With an ever growing gibbon population we are currently fundraising to expand our facilities,” a statement at the time revealed.
Despite all these issues, the center’s staff are optimistic that their gibbons will eventually be free. But first they will have to find a safe location. “We hope one day Ee Ooo and our other gorgeous gibbons may be returned to the wild when we identify suitable and strongly protected habitat,” a spokesperson explained.
Given the LWRC’s dedication to their work, that day will no doubt come in the not-too-distant future. Until then, the center is working hard to raise awareness of the animal’s predicament. And hopefully, through education and conservation, these beautiful creatures can be saved before it’s too late.