Khao Sok: The Rare Animal Show
Just when I thought I'd seen it all at Khao Sok, I get another major surprise.
At sunrise of the morning of June 19th, we were watching a group of wild pigs foraging along the shoreline of Khao Sok. We were still close to the floating bungalows. Joining me was Jon Bennett, a repeat guest/friend. Jon teaches computer science at a high school in Tokyo. He had a powerful Canon digital camera with a 300 mm zoom lens. These photos on this page were taken by Jon.
He took some photos of the wild pigs, then we journeyed further. A Crested Goshawk stood proud in a barren tree. We marveled at its beauty, then carried on. Sitting in the back of a cove, something caught my eye. It was black, big and very hairy. I looked through my binoculars and was shocked by what I saw. There was a huge Asiatic Black Bear high up in a tree! Scanning, I saw a cub. They were eating big blue-ish berries. Scanning up, I saw another cub. The adult, most likely a female, was massive. Conservatively, I'd say she was at least a hundred pounds.
Unfortunately, this is the bear of choice for the exceedingly merciless Asian medicine trade. Heartless poachers have decimated the population of these magnificent beings. I was torn as to whether or not I should let anyone know that we saw these animals in Khao Sok. I didn't tell anyone in the park. But I decided that anyone who subscribes to this newsletter is not going to be the type of person who would harm such an animal.
Tourism is an agent of protection for bears and other endangered animals. The tourism dollars keep the national park going and pay the wages of the staff that protect the area. Yes, these park rangers are serious about protecting their future by protecting the inhabitants of the jungle. We talk at length with them about this, but they are already clued into the necessity for a safe haven for what’s left in the Kingdom. Still, we never say exactly where we see the rare things we see.
Earlier in this trip, we saw plenty of other attention-grabbing animals. Late on the first afternoon, we saw a pair of Banded Woodpeckers on one side of a cove. On the other side, a very rare Grey-headed Fish-Eagle patrolled his turf. Khao Sok is one of the last strongholds for this endangered bird of prey. It would truly be a loss to never see one of these beautiful birds perched in wait for a fish. Its call is easy to recognize, it gives me a warm feeling every time I hear it.
Monkeys are common in Khao Sok National Park. None are more plentiful than the comical Dusky Langur. They are mostly black, but they have white eye rings and a white ring around their mouths as well. Their long white tails often expose their position.
Another common name for Dusky Langurs is Leaf Monkey. That’s because they eat leaves constantly. Munching on leaves, they repeatedly miss the fact that they are being watched. We can slip up on eating Langurs without them knowing. Once they spot us however, they usually flee.
Their favored mode of escape is leaping. You wouldn’t believe how far these guys can leap. They regularly take death-defying jumps from one tree to the next. Most of the courses are downward, but believe me, they can do some pretty lengthy horizontal jumps as well.
Monkeys do die falling from trees. And as such, they appear to use arboreal trails much the way we use ground trails. The time-tested branches are favored as the troop moves across the jungle canopy. If you see one monkey leap from a certain branch to a certain branch, stay focused, as the next monkey will, in all likelihood, use the same trail.
Another monkey we saw in abundance was the Long-tailed Macaque. They live in big groups called “troops.” There will be one alpha male in charge of the troop. We frequently hear scuffles as smaller males take their crack at the top job.
These are very adaptable monkeys. They figure out how to get food from a variety of different situations. These are the most common type of monkey in the temples of Thailand. They’ve figured out the free meal ticket here. They have also adapted to island living. You can see them combing beaches at low tide in search of whatever might provide a bit of nourishment. They are commonly called Crab-eating Macaques when in this setting.
If you want to take photos of monkeys, macaques are quite obliging. They don’t scare easily and they come all the way down to the water. Dusky Langurs only come down close to the water’s edge when their favorite veggies are there in abundance. They are very skittish when they do venture to this region.
Hornbills and Kingfishers
Believe it or not, the Great Hornbill is the most regularly seen bird in Khao Sok. These massive jumbo jets of the tropical airways of the park are so large that they make a whooshing sound when flying. When gliding, you can still hear the air as it courses across its two-meter wingspan.
We saw Great Hornbills every day and at all times of the day. The wacky Helmeted Hornbill was vocal throughout the day as well. The excitable yelping call of the smaller Bushy-crested Hornbills cropped up from time to time. Luckily for us bird watchers, they often make their ruckus just before taking wing. That gives you time to get your binoculars ready as you turn your kayak around in anticipation.
Oriental Pied Hornbills don’t make quite as much noise, but they can certainly hold their own when it comes to volume. They too often make a bunch of noise just before taking flight. Isn’t that considerate.
The Blue-eared Kingfisher is becoming more and more common in Khao Sok. This lovely brilliant blue bird gives a sort of police whistle when in flight. To the trained ear (mine), this is a sign that it’s time to look around. It usually perches close to the water, as its prey is the smaller fish and glass shrimp that inhabit the shallows.Stork-billed Kingfisher
The Stork-billed Kingfisher is the most common large kingfisher in Khao Sok. We came across two of them while hiking to a cave. They were perched near a small stream. This stream is normally well underwater, but southern Thailand is suffering from a second year of low rainfall.
The reservoir is used for hydroelectric power as well as water. Even though it’s lower than I’ve seen it in over ten years, the Electrical Generating Authority of Thailand releases water on a schedule. This exposes a lot more land and provides more shoreline, making the likelihood of seeing herbivorous animals more likely. The shore is lush with grasses, including a lot of bamboo, and a good amount of banana trees. Spiderhunters, small nectivores, flitter about, sticking their long bills into the banana flowers. A variety of spiderhunters exist with various lengths bills to suit the various lengths of banana flowers.
The King of the jungle
On a recent trip, the sighting of a colossal King Cobra pleasured us. I rounded a corner and headed down the left bank of a cove. Suddenly, I saw a tail sneak up the bare part of the bank and disappear into the meter-high grass. The grass very high up the bank was moving too… hmmm? I called everyone over. There was a gap in the foliage where we witnessed this organic freight train roll by. It kept going and going. When will we see the caboose? Out of the blue, a head pop up above it all. My God! This was a King Cobra. Its head must have been at least a meter and a half off of the ground. It just stared at us. At this point, I remember thinking, “I am soooo glad that we’re in kayaks and not walking right now!” If we’d have been on foot, I would have suggested trotting rapidly in the other direction. After all, this is the true king of the jungle. Nothing can win a fight against a full-grown King Cobra. Only a man with a tool can overcome this truly noble work of Nature. It packs enough venom to kill an elephant. Skink
It just stared at us, lapping up our chemical signals from time to time. The scales above its eyes appeared to presented a downward slope, making it look evil. What an incredible sight. Even if you are deathly afraid of snakes, you’ve got to appreciate the vocation and beauty of this ruler of all he could bite.
If seeing a wide variety of animals, from huge to small, Khao Sok is the place. From the comfort of a kayak, you'll be able to sneak up on monkeys and birds. you never know what you'll encounter. So come on over and give kayaking a try. It's suitable for all ages. You're never too old to start kayaking. It's easy.
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