The rush you feel as you fly at over 55kph an hour above the tree canopy below you is like no other. Given your vantage point, you truly appreciate just how deep into the wilderness you are – the forest is a never-ending plateau of greenery.
This rush is courtesy of the Gibbon Experience, located in Nam Kan National Park in Northern Laos. With a little help from a wire and harness, we’re moving about as fast as the resident gibbons do, swinging from treetop to treetop.
We are far less elegant, though. Using their eccentrically long arms to propel them forwards, gibbons can gracefully leap more than 15m between trees. Not to mention that they do this 60m above the forest floor, with only their tails as safety nets. On the other hand, us mere mortals twist and flail in our clunky helmets and uncomfortable harnesses as we speed along 200m ziplines.
Gibbons in Laos
If gibbons had any sense of humor, they would surely be laughing and cackling at our adrenaline-induced whoops as we race feet first above the trees below. I speak for myself and the ten others joining me on this adventure when I say that we don’t mind, though. Not only do we get to revel in an experience like no other, but we’re also helping to protect these majestic creatures from the ravishes of the human race.
Thanks to the Gibbon Experience (http://www.gibbonexperience.org/), the gibbons are finally free to play among the trees.
With their alien-like bodies and wide-eyed stares, gibbons are unfortunately one of the most endangered ape species on the planet. Their biggest threat comes from deforestation of their native forests for palm-tree oil and other plantations. Another threat wreaking havoc on delicate gibbon populations is the illegal wildlife trade, as their body parts are used in traditional Asian medicine. Unfathomably, chopsticks made from of the long forelimbs of gibbons are said to protect you from a poisoned dish.
The rationale behind the creation of the Gibbon Experience is simple: as funding to protect wildlife is hard to procure, Frenchman Jean-Francois Reumaux, the project’s founder, came up with the idea to use tourism to generate the necessary funds.
Not only does this model of funding provide a renewable source of income for the continued protection of these creatures, but it also empowers the local community.
By offering local poachers positions as guides to utilize their procured tracking and forest skills for good, the project has given the surrounding community an alternative source of income. Couple this with their families who are employed in other staff positions, and you now have 120 permanently employed locals who all have a stake in the wellbeing of local gibbon populations.
This model is proving to be a success. The appeal of potentially seeing these elusive creatures, of zip lining across deep, remote valleys, and of staying overnight in the world’s largest treehouses is enough to get anyone to make the tough journey to this remote part of the world.
So for the sake of the gibbons, not to mention your sense of adventure, I highly recommend that you pack your bags and jump on the next available flight to Laos.