Police Hunt for Gibbon Selfie Hawker on Koh Samui

Photo: Arkadiy Kulev / Facebook
Photo: Arkadiy Kulev / Facebook

KOH SAMUI — Island police are on the lookout for a repeat wildlife offender who farms tourists for money by charging them for photos with a gibbon.

Koh Samui police were looking Wednesday for Ismail Thalang, 35, after someone posted a video clip of him approaching beach-goers with a small ape slung over his shoulder earlier in the week on Chaweng Beach.

“It won’t be hard to capture him. I caught him myself a couple of months ago,” Col. Thongchana Hankittikanjana of Bo Phut police said. “Police are looking for him since this morning, after reporters told me about the story that farangs first reported on.”

In July, police arrested Ismail at his home on the island for illegally possessing a protected animal and seized a 2-year-old gibbon. Evidence there led the authorities to arrest his gibbon supplier, 23-year-old Ruengwit Aolueknoi, in the Sooksamran district of Ranong province. There they found two more gibbons.

Thongchana said he does not remember what Ismail was fined.

The popularity of wildlife tourism produces an unseemly market for exploitation of wildlife for the sake of tourists often unaware or indifferent to the circumstances. Despite efforts to rein in trafficking and illegal exploitation of wildlife, they are still widely practiced.

Thongchana said that the “same group of people” are using gibbons to ply money from tourists, and they all hail form Ranong, like Ismail. They are also suspected of exploiting iguanas for photos.

A clip of Ismail pitching animal selfies first appeared Monday on a local Koh Samui Facebook group.

“The SAME guys were seen back on the SAME beach. With what looks like the SAME gibbon,” Arkadiy Kulev wrote.

Gibbons, which do not breed in captivity and therefore must be poached from the wild by killing their mothers, have a short work life, Kulev also wrote. Handlers often kill them when they reach the age of 6 or 7 when they develop teeth and become aggressive.

Gibbons are protected under Thai law, and possessing them alive or dead without authorization is punishable by four years in prison and a fine of 40,000 baht.