Sunday, March 8, 2009

Monkey school in Surat Thani

As I am often going to Surat Thani, I checked out most of the places mentioned in the guidebooks already. One of these places was the monkey school of Somporn Saekow, located in Kanchanadit district not far from the city of Surat Thani.

However when I went there in 2003, I sadly learned that Somporn passed away half year earlier, and a cousin had just started to take over the school then. But as she did not speak English, the daughter of Somporn did some of the explanations. Though it was of course still very interesting to see how the monkeys get taught, from what I read later the presentations of Somporn had even more charm. And after I even found an English book in Bangkok on him, and an obituary in an Australian newspaper I also wrote him a Wikipedia article.

But it was not just these presentations which made this school special, it was the whole teaching philosophy. Teaching monkeys to harvest coconuts is an old technique, but Somporn did not like the way the monkeys are forced to do their work. So he developed his unique style in which the monkeys learn by playing in very easy steps. First the learn to accept a coconut as a toy, then to turn it, then to turn one hanging a meter above the floor. Once they succeed with this, such a coconut is loosely fixed on a tree and they have to climb up to make it fall down. And then finally the are ready to do this to real coconuts just getting ripe on the tree.

The whole course takes about half year. As catching the monkeys - Pig-tailed macaques - is illegal, but holding them in captivity is not, Somporn only teached monkeys farmers send to him as students, and returned them after they finished their course.

As my visit was in 2003 and the school just recovered from the death of the founder, I don't know if this school is still open today. But there are in fact still lots of so-called travel guide website which advertise Somporns school as a local attraction without mentioning anything about the fact that Somporn is not running it anymore - and even in a guide book I checked in the bookstore yesterday it still names Somporn, even though it was published in 2007.

Update: The school is still operating, and now also has a website.


Anonymous said...
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Unknown said...

Please visit our place again to see that we have fully recovered from the death from Mr. Somporn. We do not perform a circus show. We show how we train monkeys with love and by playing.

Brad Florescu said...

This blog is a true treasure.

PetsAndTheCity said...

Great blog! I'm going to Thailand for the first time in January and wanted to visit this monkey school. Unfortunately, its email seems to be defunct. Do you have a contact? It seems Arjen, who commented here, works there, but I can't see his profile as it's private. Let me know!

Andy said...

Best I can offer is the contact info at the website of the monkey school, which also has contact email.