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Published: August 6th 2007
Mat: Named after the primates whose calls wake you in the morning, the Gibbon Experience is a locally-owned eco-tourism project whose character and activities put it a league above all other tourist attractions on offer around Southeast Asia. A Frenchman dreamt up this novel concept for conservation - create incredible treehouses in the middle of pristine jungle and connect them with huge ziplines. Then let tourists loose on the area for three days at a time - no itinerary, just hang out in the 50m-high treehouses, zip above and through the jungle, or explore the jungle by foot. If tourists are flocking to the area for an amazing childhood dream of an experience in the trees of the Bokeo jungle, and the project is environmentally and socially sustainable, then in this country of marginal environmental protection, the area may be spared from hunting and logging.
The Gibbon Experience employs an around-the-clock team of forest guards, dedicated to protecting the Bokeo National Protected Area against the threats of poaching and hunting by locals for bush meat. More importantly however, the local Hmong are on board actively running and managing most aspects of the program, and receiving an income for doing so.
An Asiatic black bear cub, macaque, and a very tolerant dog
These guys were all being raised by the Gibbon Experience - and living together!
This local "ownership" of the program is probably the most effective method for changing the poaching and hunting patterns of local people in the area. The locals' new commitment towards preservation of the local wildlife and forests is creating a path that hopefully others will follow.
An example of this local interest in wildlife conservation was the rescuing of an Asiatic Black Bear cub from poachers. The local staff of the Gibbon Experience are raising the cub themselves, with the hope of reintegrating him back into the jungle (which they did successfully with another Asiatic black bear club last year). The Hmong woman who is surrogate Mum for this beast has huge bear hickies all over her arms from him trying to suckle her. All who cuddled him ended up with this cute (but painful) memento from this little fella (with the very ethnic name of "Ken").
Trace: Sooo... faster than a flying Minsk, we whizzed down the smooth wires, enjoying the feeling of being amongst primary forest, at one with the gibbons, on a double roller (with back up rope and karabiner in place). At least that's how it's supposed to go.
When you go
on the gibbon experience, one of the many great things about it is that while using any of the dozen or so zip lines set up around this National Protected Area, you have complete independence, control and responsibility. Once you have been given the briefing on how to safely use your roller and harness on the lines, you need to trust your own judgement and do your own double-checking - quite some responsibility, given that some of the lines are up to 150 metres above the forest floor. Quite a trip.
Jerkier than a 12 year old trying to drive for the first time in their parent's manual car, Emily (a lovely North Carolinian girl on our group) shuddered bone-shakingly down the wire, coming to rest about 25 metres out from the take off platform, and about 15 metres above the ground.
Unfortunately, poor Emily had picked up a roller that needed to be set up differently than all the rest, and as such it had a slightly higher margin for error. So, once she had hooked her sliding roller to her long safety rope and karabiner, and the short rope (which takes your weight from the harness)
and karabiner directly to the zip line she set off, only to find out that when all of your weight is on a karabiner hooked directly to a piece of wire, you don't get nearly so far as you do when you use the prescribed double roller to fly along the line.
Bugger. The good news was that the karabiner setup obviously holds, and that Emily wasn't going to fall off. The bad news was that she also couldn't go forwards. Or backwards. Talk about being strung out - left to hang - stranded high and dry etc etc. What to do!?!
I was keen to go out and use my nous to sort out the situation as I was next in line to zip, but I decided in the end that there may be some brute strength and heroic lifting required, so I reluctantly stepped back from the platform. Jeremy, Mat and I fell into 'Team Intrepid Rescue', with Matty as Zipman out on the line with the stranded maiden, me as the on-site operation supervisor (and inventor of plan B), and Jer doing a great job as 'when good zips go bad' documentary photographer.
rescue went to plan (plan B that is, plan A didn't quite work) and after about 15 minutes Mat and Emily had managed to make it back to the platform.
Watch Matty's Oscar winning performance on the promotional video "A day in the life of a gibbon" here: Video of waking up in the treehouse
Rich and Pete - this is proof that your big sis is a little braver than she used to be: Video of Mat, Trace and Jeremy on the big zipline
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