We were to fly northeast to Khao Tai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, Thailand's second largest park that also extends into three neighbouring provinces.
Up, up and away, our helicopter flight to Khao Yai was delayed
while sound recordist Terry rigged microphones into headphones
Map of central Thailand showing the location of Khai Yai National Park to the northeast of Bangkok (click on map for enlarged view)
Our flight would take us out over Bangkok city, with its high-rises, and then the jungle-covered hills to the northeast. This helicopter flight reminded me of flying from São Paulo, largest city in Brazil, to isolated Ilha Queimada Grande, in the first season of OBA, the glass and steel and modernisation contrasting with the primeval greens of the forests as we passed over the Atlantic coastal forests (or what remained of them).
Out over Bangkok
and away to the northeast over the jungle
We were visiting a training camp for national park guards, run by the international anti-wildlife traffiking organisation WildAid and supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). WildAid's aim is to put a stop to illegal exploitation of endangered animals and plants but in a way that limits human loss of life too, avoiding shoot-outs between park guards and poachers. To this end the heavilyarmed guards are trained as a disciplined military unit, to capture the poachers rather than shoot them.
In a clearing we could see armed men training
This was a WildAid training camp for park guards
We came into land amongst them
Film crew at Khao Yai
(l-t) Terry Meadowcroft, sound; Roger Finnigan, director, Mark Stokes, camera, and Mark O'Shea with WildAid instructors
We arrived during a training session where guards were being put through their paces by Thai instructors, overseen by American WildAid staffers Steve Galster and Tim Redford. It all looked very professional.
Watched by their WildAid instructors, Thai and American, the guards go through their paces
They are also watched by Mark
Much of the training is supported by the
Wildlife Conservation Society
Unbeknownst to me a training exercise had been arranged for the cameras, where the park guards would apprehend three poachers in the forest, and I was to be one of the poachers, the other two being park guards in civilian clothing. I determined to make my escape when the armed guards broke into out camp and I managed to get a fair way down the river and almost into the jungle before I was caught and hand-cuffed at gun-point, none to gently either, before being escorted back to join my 'fellow miscreants'. I would not like to be a real poacher up against these people.
Guards approach the 'poacher's camp'
One 'poacher' gets away, but not far
The three 'poachers' are handcuffed
and await transportation to jail
At the end of the session we took some group photographs and headed back to Bangkok.
Mark with WildAid's Thai instructors
and with the team including his fellow 'poachers' - undercover officers