Only a few hours outside of Bangkok is a national park that is simply wonderful for wildlife. To celebrate the end of our year in Thailand, in August my wife and I took a three-day trip to Khao Yai National Park. I had been looking forward to this for a long time and planned it with the help of several fellow herp enthusiasts. Conditions weren’t perfect and we ran into some problems, but the trip was awesome.
After taking a bus to Pak Chong, a songthaw to the entrance station, and hitchhiking to the visitor center on the back of pickup bed, we were in Khao Yai. My wife and I had planned to camp, but it rained much of the day and she didn’t want to spend the night soaked. Instead, we got a dorm for very cheap – no furnishings, but it kept us dry. Since it was a weekday and the rainy season, park accommodations were almost empty. That was good for wildlife visibility, and all these guys were seen right among the cabins and dorms.
Northern pig tailed macaques (Macaca leonina)
Barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak)
Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor)
enormous Black Giant Squirrels (Ratufa bicolor)
One night I tested the theory that porcupines liked to hang around dorm trash. My wife and I were alone in our dorm complex, so I went to the back of the other dorm that had more people in it. At 9:45pm I peeked around the corner of their building, and sure enough:
Malayan Porcupines (Hystrix brachyura)
On the next night I decided to set up a simple trap so my wife could see the porcupines she had missed the night before. All it took was a piece of food trash surrounded by empty water bottles on a bench in front of our window. We went to sleep, and at midnight the rain had stopped and we were woken by crashing water bottles. The surprised porcupine scurried off immediately after I snapped these photos:
I was happy to see that though the mammals weren’t very afraid of humans, they also weren’t “pet-like” and didn’t approach us for food from our hands. If you got too close they moved away. There were signs insisting that the animals not be fed and some threatened fines. This was my first National Park experience in Thailand, and I was happy to see that the attitude towards wildlife was more respectful and natural than some of the tourist-centered animal attractions I’d been in Thailand.
Unfortunately, one hazard of the area is leeches. Lots, and lots, and lots of leeches.
I didn’t know anything about their behavior – how they move along the ground like inchworms, advance towards you when they feel you coming, reach up trying to grab you when you walk by. There are few things creepier than watching leeches close in from all directions the second you stop moving. On the plus side, you usually notice them before they bite, their bites don’t hurt much, they don’t itch much afterwards, and they don’t carry any diseases that I know of.
The frequent rain was great for frogs, and quite a few species could be found near the accommodations and the surrounding forest and ponds.
Dark-sided Frogs (Sylvirana nigrovittata) (seen in every habitat and with some variation)
Microhylids were common and diverse.
There was also quite a mix of other species. All of these frogs were found around the dorm or in the ditches on the nearest road:
Our dorm at night produced an array of geckos:
Flying Gecko (Ptychozoon lionotum) – the first one was out in daylight
How spectacular is it that you can see that array of mammals, frogs, and geckos without even leaving the area of the dorms! Of course, the fact that we came during the rainy season was a big plus – some animals tend to be much more active during the rainy season, and the fact that there were virtually no other visitors around meant that those animals were probably coming closer to the dorms than usual. Still, there were plenty of species that we were only going to find if we got out and started looking in the deeper forest. That’s what I’ll share next.