When daydreaming about Thailand, you’re probably picturing incredible beaches, a crazy party scene and mouth-watering cuisine. You’re not wrong.
But did you also know that this incredibly biodiverse country is home to over 10% of the world’s wildlife? That’s a helluva lot of wildlife – over 285 mammal species and nearly 1,000 types of bird species to be precise.
With over 300 national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and protected areas, you won’t be short of opportunities to spot a host of furry and non-furry residents. Here’s the lowdown of some of our favourite animals and ethical experiences you can get stuck into in this land of paradisiacal beaches, glitzy temples and sprawling markets.
Three Amazing Animals to Spot in Thailand
It’s binturong since I’ve been to Thailand
Have you ever thought that an animal could smell of popcorn? Nope, we thought not. A binturong’s scent glands are just underneath its tail, and when it moves a sweet smell is released, marking its territory and buttering up potential partners. The binturong has a long body, bristly black hair and little legs, which suit them well for scuttling up vertical trees. They dwell high up in forest canopies, feast on strangler figs and communicate by making curious noises. Females purr when they need some lovin’. Find these cheeky creatures in Khao Sok National Park.
A relephant discussion about these gentle giants
These wrinklies are a national, royal and religious symbol here. They even used to be the main icon of Thailand’s old flag. It’s safe to say they are pretty celebrated, with a festival thrown annually in their name. Sadly, this event has been criticised for exploiting these creatures. It’s not all bad though, as an increased awareness has led to a crackdown on elephant riding and an increase in elephant sanctuaries across Thailand.
We at STA Travel were one of the first travel companies to ban elephant riding on the tours and trips we sell (read about our Animal Welfare policy here), plus, those snap happy humans at Instagram have now banned elephant riding photos in a bid to protect these intelligent and intuitive giants. Serious props, guys!
Mad fact of the day. Did you know that elephant poop can be used to make paper, and to brew coffee? Sounds gross, but tastes pretty damn good – give it a shot. Find elephants in Surin or in the Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary as part of volunteering projects.
With their long arms, dark fur and nifty nature, agile gibbons move so fast that you won’t be able to keep up with these ninjas. Males can be easily spotted by their white or light-grey cheeks. These tailless creatures use their bendy arms to swing between trees high up in the rainforest canopy, and they hardly come down to the ground. They live in monogamous pairs and defend their precious territory through displays and songs. Sadly, the agile gibbon is listed as endangered on the ICUN Red List as a result of habitat destruction and the pet trade. Head to the Hala Bala Wildlife Sanctuary to see these bad boys in action.
Three Ethical Encounters in Thailand
We’ve heard too many bad tales about wildlife being mistreated. In 2015, the Thai government famously shut down Tiger Temple as a tourist site due to the mistreatment of the tigers. Tours that involve photo ops can also be very damaging to the mental and physical wellbeing of the animals involved as they are almost always taken from their families and poached from the wild. Here are some of our top places to go and see wildlife where we know the animals are treated fairly and with respect.
Ethical experience with ellies
Think limestone mountains peppered with stunning lakes and the oldest evergreen rainforest worldwide. Add on adventure and wildlife spotting and you’ve hit the nail on the head. Located in Southern Thailand, Khao Sok National Park is home to 311 different species of birds and 48 mammal species. Flying squirrels, binturongs (our popcorn-smelling friends), elephants, gibbons, tigers and clouded leopards can all be spotted here. Watch elephants roam free, with a chance to wash and bathe them in a giant, natural mud bath. That’s one off the bucket list.
Wildlife spotting galore
Established back in 1962, this was Thailand’s first ever national park and is teeming with fauna. 67 mammal species and 250 bird types make this a wildlife hotspot. Hot to trot, check. You may even catch boars, deer, gibbons, tigers and elephants if you’re lucky, plus miles of hiking trails. Hop on a one to four day wildlife tour, with options for night safaris.
For turtle and conservation lovers
Based in the coastal province of Phang Nga, this project combines turtle conservation with environmental conservation work, while also gaining a better understanding into Thailand’s wider climate and conservation issues. Volunteers here will be able to participate in camera trapping surveys of the turtles, enclosure enrichment studies and maintenance, beach cleans, coral reef management and more. This way, you’ll be able to feel like you’re doing your bit for the environment and interact with turtles.
What’s to lose?
If reading about Thailand’s amazing wildlife and ethical wildlife experiences has inspired you, check out some of our tours here, including the Coastal Conservation Expedition mentioned above. Make a STAnd for the ethical treatment of animals, and make it now!
Thanks to our friends at STA Travel for their recommendations!