Oad and Hornbills on Koh Ra
Khun Oad (Khun Pittaya Chaeoylur) visited us from Khao Yai National Park, Pak Chong district, on the 18th April. He came to research Hornbills on Koh Ra and due to bad weather we had to change the schedule a little bit, but all the main activities were still the same. The day started with a seminar concerning the hornbill ecosystem and its connection with Mother Nature.
The students from Baan Hin Lad School, Kuraburi district, were the lucky few who got the most benefit from Oad’s visit, as his time was limited so too were the number of people he could see. Khun Oad is a very busy man, he has to conduct research, collect data and give seminars; both in Thailand and abroad, so we were very honoured that he kindly accepted our invitation. “I like to give seminars to kids, I want to educate them” Khun Oad said.
Koh Ra Hornbill Education for Everyone
It’s not only children who gain knowledge from K. Oad, but also the fake students like us.
Here is a summary of some of the facts we learnt from him:
- “The number if hornbills present in an area indicate the abundance of the forest. Where there are plenty of hornbills in the forest, it shows that those areas are thick with vegetation and forest trees.”
- “Hornbills are also known as the ‘Farmers of the forest’ as they effectively spread seeds throughout the forest. They eat around 200 types of fruit and plants, a lot more than other birds can do.”
- “Hornbills are monogamous breeders. If one of them dies, the other remains alone for the rest of its life.”
- “In breeding season female hornbills will stay in the cavity nest, lay eggs and look after them. They will stay close to their nest to protect themselves and their eggs from enemies. Male hornbills must feed their partners and offspring. They have to work hard all day long.”
- “There are 3 methods to raise baby hornbills; they are raised by their parents, their father or their relatives.”
According to our original schedule we were supposed to go to the island as soon as the seminar finished so that we could go for a jungle trek and see some hornbills early next morning. The children were all so excited; they had already registered their names and asked their parent’s permission to go to Koh Ra with K. Oad as their teacher. Unfortunately we had to change the plan, due to weather conditions we had to cancel the trip as it wasn’t safe to take the children across in the rough seas.
Sunset At Koh Ra
When the sun had finished working for the day and gone to bed we decided to go over to the Island with our staff and K. Oad. When the last light of the day disappeared from the top of the mountain, our long tailed boat arrived at the mangrove forest on the west side of the island. We then walked to beach camp, surrounded by the lovely nocturnal atmosphere; the starlight was so bright that it showed us the way.
Forty minutes later we reached our destination, Ao Son, where Koh Ra Beach Camp is located. We met GVI (Global Vision International) volunteers – Jax, Amanda and Jermal. They were having dinner at the restaurant. After greeting each other, we invited them to join our trekking programme the next day. Jax was very interested and eagerly wanted to go with us. However, she couldn’t make it because they had to go back to the mainland tomorrow, early afternoon; but the trekking would take longer than half day.
After checking in and taking a shower we join Khun Oad at the dining table. He told us about his experience working with the Hornbill Foundation: how to collect data about hornbills, how to survive in the jungle and what to do when you encounter a dangerous wild animals. Additionally, he told interesting stories he had with the National Geographic and BBC film crews. In the past he had assisted them when they came to Thailand for filming in the rainforest. Oad also told many intriguing stories he collected during 20 years experience in the jungle. Having heard all about his adventures, everyone in our team was really keen to tag along with him to Khao Yai National Park.
Before we said good night, Khun Oad reminded us to get up early in the morning and that we would have breakfast at around 6:30 am. He informed the chef to prepare lunch boxes for everyone; we were going to have lunch in the forest.
This was going to be the very first time that a hornbill survey had been carried out on Koh Ra, it was also to be my first lunch in the jungle! It was exciting!
Khun Oad would show us the hornbill’s food and cavity nests, and if we were lucky enough we would probably see hornbills in their nests too.
Day 2 of Our Koh Ra Hornbill Expedition
Early next morning the weather was so nice, there was plenty of warm sunshine. Little birds were singing as if they wanted us to hurry into the forest to see them and say hi. As soon as we finished having breakfast, we put our lunch boxes and 2 bottles of drinking water into our rack sacks. We then started our jungle trek, heading to the east side of the camp.
What one should be aware of every time during juggle trekking are tropical fire ants, ticks and jungle leeches. Covering up from head to toe can help to protect you from those dangerous small creatures. It is also recommended to wear earth tone coloured outfits, such as light green, brown and cream. Two members in our team (including me) were amateur trekkers. We wore flip-flops, short sleeved T-shirts and shorts (bad choice!). For those who sweat so easily should bring oral rehydration salts (ORS) with them. We walked at a slow pace, when feeling tired we stopped for a drink, to take deep breaths of pure oxygen and to touch and hug big trees to get strong energy from them (while stop walking, one of us spent time wisely – she talked to the trees).
Koh Ra: A Unique Nature Destination
On the trekking route we found deer tracks, rare birds and particular fruiting trees that are regarded as the hornbill’s favorite, such as the weeping fig tree, (hornbill’s main dish), knema tree, Polyalthia Viridis Craib tree and many more. Oad was providing interesting information throughout the programme. Occasionally, he collected tree seeds and told us to try. He said that he had eaten all seeds that hornbills eat and that the taste was not that bad!
What makes Koh Ra, or Koh Yi Poon as it is known among local people, so unique is its pure nature.
It can be said that Koh Ra is the last island in the Andaman Sea (Thailand territory) that there is such rich abundance of flora and fauna.
The island consists of 4 types of forest; rain forest, mangrove, swamp and beach forest. The reason why nature on Koh Ra is still virgin is because only a few tourists have explored this island before. Some people who live on the island are Moken, sea nomad, and some are Thai. They have been seeking an area for agriculture to plant rubber and palm trees.
We walked through the middle of the rain forest, heading west. The amateur trekkers were getting exhausted as we had to encounter steep paths, sharp thorns of rattan trees and fire ant hills with hundred of ants. The longer the distance, the heavier our rucksacks. Throughout our 5 hours in the forest we stopped approximately 30 minutes all together. Eventually, we reached uncle N’s little hut and we had a lunch break.
Afternoon jungle trekking, our team walked towards the north, which leads us to Oriental Pied Hornbill’s cavity nests. Oad noticed their pretty fresh droppings, he presumed that the owner of this nest had left their home around 10 days ago. We saw quite a few more empty cavity nests.
What is more, Khun Oad gave us information about how to organize a bird watching tour. First and foremost, we have to collect data about different routes and trees, which we found along the way. We had to know what they are, when they blossom and what type of bird they attracted. There should be no more than 10 people per one bird watching group, because the more people, the louder they will be, and that might disturb birds and other animals. Consequently, we would probably be unable to see any birds that day. Regarding hornbill watching, it is necessary to build “Blinds” to hide yourselves from hornbill’s eyesight. As a matter of fact, hornbills are like other wild animals, they get frightened easily whenever they spot a human being.
The second important point is how to provide information to tourists, including how to dress, the dos and don’ts in the jungle, and other facts about nature and wildlife.
In Oad’s view, Koh Ra has a diversified ecosystem, the area is as wide as 1,920 hectare (12,000 rai), has abundant forests and there is plenty of food for hornbills. This island should have as many as 200 hornbills. Most of them are Oriental Pied Hornbills. In the last breeding season many baby hornbills were born.
The importance of Hornbill Education
The most important thing in his opinion is how to communicate with local people that they shouldn’t take baby hornbills back home to feed them as pets or sell them. The actual facts about baby hornbills are that they will be cute and behave sweetly for only a few years. Once they reach puberty they will become aggressive, because they just can’t resist following their wild animal instinct. Then the owner would get annoyed and won’t think that they are cute any longer, and consequently will probably release them back into the wild. Unfortunately, hornbills that were fed by humans throughout their life can’t survive living by themselves. Whenever they go back to the forest, they will definitely die. Sooner or later, the same owner would order new baby hornbill to feed as a pet…and the vicious circle continues…
Sometimes a change in wild creature’s behavior is unintentionally caused by human beings. Khun Oad pointed out the case of wild monkeys in Khao Yai area, which have now become misbehaved monkeys, this is due to the fact that they got addicted to crisps and snacks provide by tourists. Some monkeys became addicted to MSG (Monosodium glutamate), a major ingredient in each snack. The poor monkeys now keep begging snacks and food from human visitors. They won’t find food from the forest as they should do, as they are so used to being fed. When no one gives them anything to eat, then they steal food from the ranger’s houses or tourist lodges. If people don’t understand what causes the monkeys to act in such a way, sometimes they get angry and hit them. Some people have even been known to shoot the monkeys because of their aggressive behavior.
Khun Oad is a very distinguished man who has extensive and thorough knowledge about nature, wildlife and especially hornbills. He has a huge concern for the forest and wild animals. Oad doesn’t even kill even a leech that sucks his blood., instead he will let it go back to the nature; and he does the same with ticks and mosquitoes. Oad always finds non-biodegradable rubbish in the forest, making him very sad. He has seen some animals die because of the human rubbish in the jungle. Some deer die because of eating whole plastic bags, and some have cuts on their hooves from tin lids, then when the inflamed hooves get worse, all the deer can do is wait to die.
Hornbills on Koh Ra Must be Protected
Near the end of this first hornbill survey on Koh Ra, Oad expressed his concern about the urgent need for the proposed botanical garden project that is intended for this small island. He believes that this is a splendid project, but is afraid that if this project hasn’t started soon, the last unspoiled nature habitat in the Andaman Sea could face deforestation. People applying for อland ownership certificates will shortly develop the land, and as a result, hornbills and other wild animals would lose their shelters. It would definitely affect Thai residents, because we are going to lose another source of pure oxygen and incredibly beautiful nature.