2016 – A win for wildlife

And this is not the first time a Chiang Mai panda has predicted the outcome of the European Championship.

By | Sun 1 Jan 2017

Well, that’s it for another year. A year in which there were some terrible losses, and some even more distressing victories. Yet there was one win that, as 2016 came to a close, cannot have failed to perk everybody up a bit, and that was David Attenborough returning with ‘Planet Earth II’ to prove that the world we inhabit remains an extraordinarily fabulous place.

The BBC sent camera crews to every corner of the earth and their lenses managed to capture sequences that truly deserve the epithet ‘breath-taking’. But where the heck was Chiang Mai? We have amazing animals with some extraordinary stories to tell.

The BBC missed a trick earlier last year by not having its hi-def cameras pointed at Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui, everyone’s favourite Chiang Mai Zoo panda couple, as they successfully predicted that Portugal would walk away victorious from UEFA Euro 2016. How better to illustrate how closely we are related to the other animals on our planet than a bit of panda gambling? And this is not the first time a Chiang Mai panda has predicted the outcome of the European Championship. In 2012 Lin Ping correctly forecast that Spain would walk away with the trophy by nibbling some bamboo attached to the Iberian victor’s flag.

What with the BBC’s assiduous desire for balance in its reporting, a crew might have popped over to the aquarium where the sharks were also being asked their top tip for the championship. Unfortunately the toothy fish chose the easy odds and went for 2014 World Cup winners, and number one rankers, Germany and were probably quite thankful the cameras weren’t there to record the gaffe.

The final episode of ‘Planet Earth II’ focused on animals that share their habitat with us. In Chiang Mai we share the city with a crowd of creepy critters. The well-worn adage that we are all never more than six feet away from a rat has always made me a little uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable, however, as finding out earlier in 2016 that, in Thailand, we may all be just one flush away from a 10ft python. Few of us will fail to remember a news story from May in which 38-year-old Attaporn Boonmakchuay, his wife and his neighbours, battled valiantly with a monstrous serpent after it attached its jaws to the poor man’s old chap. Thankfully, Mr. Attaporn, the python as well as the old fellow have reportedly made a full mental and physical recovery.

And it’s not just snakes that are a cause for consternation when our bits are vulnerable. In November a four-year-old boy was more than a little rattled to find a monitor lizard rearing its head out of the toilet while he was taking a constitutional. Thailand snake expert, Vern Lovic, told Coconuts Bangkok that the country’s toilet reptile epidemic was probably more to do with the prevalence of cell phones and social media than an actual increase in instances. I can hardly imagine the feelings of anger, disappointment and shame one would feel if one had to watch one’s loved ones prefer to digitally record the situation for posterity rather than remove the pesky snake from one’s knackers.

Yet it’s not just snakes seeking trouser-snakes that are thriving. Last year saw great strides being made to protect the welfare of Chiang Mai animals great and small.

More elephant camps around Chiang Mai are doing away with tourist rides and football shows in favour of providing sanctuaries where visitors are encouraged to hang out with the planet’s largest land mammal, give them a bite to eat and perhaps a bath.

In May Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conversation pulled its finger out and raided the infamous Tiger Temple. The discovery of frozen cubs, pelts and other macabre findings caused a national and international scandal, as well it should. The future of this biggest of big cats is uncertain and unfortunately their fate is in our hands. But making a fuss about things is something our species does extremely well and making a fuss about such things is what is needed.

And it’s not just our exotic creatures getting a helping hand. Animal rescue foundations have introduced numerous programmes (adoption, neutering and inoculation, to name but a few) to help the cats and dogs that roam the city streets.

The situation with Thailand’s wildlife is far from black and white (and there are far more qualified commentators than me that tackle the subject) but raised awareness, especially of pythons in the pipes, can only be a good thing, and last year saw some positive steps in a positive direction.

As the divine David Attenborough said: “It’s surely our responsibility to do everything in our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but all life on Earth?”

Have a very happy New Year, everyone.