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Pollyanna Pickering’s VIETNAM ADVENTURE


BE INSPIRATION │KNOWLEDGE


The great Hornbill, glides overhead.


While on a night trek in the Cuc Phuong reserve in Vietnam, Pollyanna was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of the rarest of all – the clouded leopard. “ We were trekking with a naturalist based at the park's headquarters, and the object of our quest was actually the slow loris” Pollyanna recounted and we had been lucky enough to see them moving through the upper branches of the trees, their huge eyes glowing like headlamps in the strong beam of the torch carried by our guide. We had also spotted flying squirrels – another species I had never observed in the wild before.


But we didn't imagine that we would be lucky enough to encounter one of the rarest cats to be found in these areas.


Although it was little more than a glimpse of a shadow passing through the dense trees, the experience stayed with Pollyanna and has inspired a series of paintings of these beautifully marked cats. While in Cuc Phuong, which is renowned for its diversity of bird species, Pollyanna also visited two excellent conservation projects – a turtle sanctuary and primate rescue centre. Turtles have become extremely endangered in Vietnam, due to poaching. Sadly many of them end up on the dining tables of china, where the demand for turtle soup appears insatiable. As well as providing a haven for rescued turtles the project has an ongoing awareness campaign to highlight the plight of the turtles among the local population, and to encourage them to report poachers and other wildlife crime.


The primate centre rescues and cares for injured and orphaned primates, and rehabilitates them back into the wild. Pollyanna was able to sketch a wide range of species including the cat bar langur which is endemic to a small group of islands in the Ha Long Bay, gibbons, and even the slow and pygmy lorises she had previously only been able to observe by torch light.


All hands on deck for bath time! After our stay in Vietnam, Pollyanna and I traveled into Thailand.


Our first stop was the infamous 'Tiger Temple' where a group of monks care for 102 tigers. Tiger Temple, or Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, is a Theravada Buddhist temple in western Thailand that was founded in 1994 as a forest temple and sanctuary for wild animals, since 1999, the monks here have also taken care of tigers which have been rescued from poachers in the nearby Thai-Burmese border jungle. Having heard somewhat mixed reports of the temple, it wasn’t originally on Pollyanna's schedule. However when their head vet Dr Sonchai issued an invitation to spend a couple of days there observing his work.


Pollyanna took the opportunity – and was extremely impressed by the wonderful work which was being done out of the limelight – treating and caring for a wide range of native wildlife, including deer, wild boar and water buffalo, many of whom would have undoubtedly died from life threatening illnesses and injuries were it not for the treatment they receive at the temple. The grounds act as a sanctuary for many of these creatures, who roam free throughout the area, and are fed and cared for by volunteers at the temple.


However the temple's high profile residents are of course their tigers. The temple is currently fundraising for a very ambitious project ; a 'Tiger paradise' which when completed will provide a sanctuary – much in the style of an African game reserve – where tigers will live naturally 'as wild' in a huge area. In a country where their natural habitat is dwindling and the wild tigers are prey to poachers this is undoubtedly a worthwhile scheme. However the temple's main fundraising activities involve tourists visiting to be photographed with both adult tigers and cubs – or to 'walk' tigers on leads – a very high level of human interaction, which seems far from ideal. None the less having spent two days at the temple Pollyanna can confirm that contrary to numerous reports, the tigers are not drugged.


“We observed these very tigers leaping off rocks and swimming in pools just a couple of hours before the public arrived for their 'photography' sessions – and they are not sedated. They are just very habituated to human contact, having been hand reared and photographed every day of their lives. However I still firmly believe that alternative methods of raising money should be found.”


Working 'behind the scenes' Pollyanna started her days at the temple by donating food to the Buddhist monks, before going up with them into the temple in the early morning where they chant before eating their one meal of the day. After that she joined the temple workers to help with the care and feeding of some of the youngest residents, And as ever her sketch book was never far from hand!


While in Thailand, we visited several national parks, including Khao Yai, the second largest in Thailand, covering an area of 2,168 square kilometers, including evergreen forests and grasslands. The park is home to 3,000 species of plants, 320 species of birds and 66 species of mammals, including Asiatic black bear, Asian elephant, gaur,gibbon, Indian sambar deer, and the pig-tailed macaque.


The jungles of Vietnam and Thailand are home to a diverse range of wildlife – from Indochinese tigers to langurs & elephants.


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