Kicking us off for World Sounds #001 is a series of recordings of the local gibbon population at the Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand. Located in the Surat Thani province, between Surat Thani on the east (120km) and Takuapa on the west coast (60km), Khao Sok National Park covers an area of 739 square kilometres. At the centre of the park is the stunning Cheow Larn Lake and it was from here where we set sail at the crack of dawn in search of spotting (and in my case, recording) the gibbons.
Like most wild jungle animals, gibbons are extremely wary of humans and they are experts at moving very quickly through the treetops, therefore it was very difficult to get close enough to get a nice clean recording. They also spend almost all of their time high in the canopy, making them very hard to see. Gibbons have no tail, but long arms, enabling them to brachiate (swing) between tree branches – they can brachiate at speeds as high as 35 mph and can travel as far as 30 feet in one swing. Their song, which is different between males and females, are a way of marking out territory and a way of warning family members of approaching predators.
As soon as we set off we could here the distant calls reverberating off the high limestone cliffs that surround the lake. Their calls are crazy! It evokes an incredible feeling! We crossed the lake by boat trying to get close enough to see our “prey”. Our boatman expertly cut the engine to the motorboat at a safe distance and used his awes to navigate us closer to where the gibbons were gathered. But they move so quickly that as soon as we got to the canopy where they had been, they’d already moved off to somewhere else. In all we spent about an hour cruising around the lake. We did get a sighting of them, but they were quite a way off.
I don’t think the recordings can do justice to the real experience. Perhaps it was enhanced by the “hunt” aspect and the mysticism of never actually getting close enough to observe them, with only their distant calls notifying us of their presence. But the sound of the gibbons calling to each other remains the most vivid sound from the six months I spent in South-East Asia. Beautiful, mystical and yet, somehow, very funny. Each time I listen to these recordings, it gives me goosebumps. A sound I’ll never forget.