Filming mammals in Thailand

Hi Mammal Watchers. My name’s Braydon. Part-time Aussie, honorary Kiwi and first-time poster on this site. I’m a wildlife filmmaker, somewhat new to the industry, mainly working as a producer but I’m really trying to get my camera skills noticed. I’ll be visiting Thailand in around June 2018 (seems like the worst season for mammal watching) and will put a big emphasis on getting some quality footage of the local mammals. [note: I tried this in Gunung Leuser recently and failed miserably. I’ll write you a trip report one day; the least I can do is help others avoid my mistakes!].

Does anybody have any experience with how the Thai National Park authorities view professional-looking camera kit? Is there a need to secure filming permits? It’s a tricky situation, because the way I film both is and isn’t for commercial gain. Mainly, it’s for self-promotion, but occasionally I’m contacted by companies who want to buy stuff I’ve shot. Not often-enough to cover the expense of getting the footage in the first place though! Generally I try to downplay what I’m doing, though my kit is obviously professional, and the experiences I seek in national parks are not in line with normal tourists, as I’m sure you can all appreciate!

I’ve got a shortlist of mammals I’d be keen to track down in Thailand, and although it’s probably pretty unadventurous for most of you here, there’s a logic to it:
– elephant
– gaur
– spectacled langur
– any gibbon species
– either porcupine
– otters
Yes: the big ones and the charismatic ones, because that’s the sort of footage that gets noticed. How I wish it were otherwise.
But I’ve also refined the list to species that are (or seem) to be somewhat habituated to tourists, slow(ish), don’t require night filming, and have regular patterns or places they return to. Because getting enough footage to make a sequence requires more than just a fleeting encounter, and usually demands several days focusing on the one place. Basically, after reading a lot of trip reports and forum topics here at MammalWatching, I’ve set my sights on the “low-hanging fruit”, aka those species that have a high chance of being encountered regularly and/or will hang around long enough for me to get my kit set up! (sorry Malayan tapir, you’ll have to wait for another trip).

I’m thinking Khao Yai is probably my best bet, and Kui Buri sounds great, except for one thing… and it seems to be a snag for a lot of places in Thailand actually. The need to have a guide and go on an organised tour. I will be on somewhat of a budget, and if I can independently make repeat visits to viewing locations, without the need for a tour, I’d much prefer that.

Does anyone have an info on the Kui Buri elephant safaris? From what I’ve read, they’re the only way visitors can get to that part of the park. Would they give ample opportunity to film? Is there a way to get in there privately?
And in Khao Yai, is it necessary to have a guide to go to the viewing towers? Does anyone have any tips on salt-licks or mud wallows that are within a sane distance (ie. less than a day’s walk) from accommodation with electricity? I’m all for camping out, but would need to recharge camera batteries every other day. I get that I’d need a guide for this sort of situation!

Finally, is trying to film mammals in the wet season just plain stupid? Will the grass be so tall I won’t see the gaur; the forests so wet the animals won’t congregate at waterholes, etc?

Any advice would be hugely appreciated – I really don’t want a repeat of my visit to Sumatra!

4 Comments
  1. Profile photo of Jon Hall
    Jon Hall 2 weeks ago

    Hi Braydon. And welcome to the mammalwatching group!

    I don’t know about the bureaucracy but I bet Jirayu (Aka Tour) does. He’s. Local tour operator and great guy. He helped the blue planet team there. jirayu.wildencounter@gmail.com

    Look forward to some reports!

    Jon

  2. Profile photo of tomeslice
    tomeslice 2 weeks ago

    Hey Braydon!

    Sorry that I haven’t been to Thailand, but you will find lots of good info from good people here.
    I’m actually curious to hear about your “bad” experience in Gunung Leuser.. It can be a tough place, and there’s no infrastructure aside from a few guides, one of whom Jon and I hired during our visit.. He talks very big when it comes to cool mammals, and has unarguable experience with rhino and tiger conservation projects. But in the short duration that we stayed we did not see the promised “honey” (sun) bears, several banded linsangs or pangolin on every other night walk…. That said, he does know the park like the back of his hands and I liked his enthusiasm. You just have to be the spotter 😉

    If you want you can write me on my personal email, I’d be curious to know what went so bad… tomer.ben-yehuda@hotmail.com

    Cheers and good luck in Thailand!
    Tomer

  3. Tom T 2 weeks ago

    Hi Braydon,
    It’s pretty easy to get around Khao Yai without a guide…you can park near and walk to the viewing towers, and their are salt licks right at the side of the park road. There are also many trails around park headquarters… also tons of tourists (more every year). I have been to Khao Yai many times and can typically find white handed gibbons just about every day that I am in the park (I am a Biologist and study them, but I was able to find them as a tourist, before I started studying them several years ago). I see elephants there on average once every couple of weeks, but I usually spend my days in the forest where it is rarer to see them. Elephants are more often visible from the road, in the ‘grasslands’ that the park people maintain. I occasionally see more interesting things like wild dogs and sun bear…sometimes even from the road. But again I have been there many times and those sightings are much rarer.

  4. Profile photo of braydon.moloney Author
    braydon.moloney 1 week ago

    Hey Tom, this is great intel. I’m glad to hear that getting around in Khao Yai without a guide is possible. I guess it might be good to hire guides for the first few days to get into the swing of things, and then strike off on my own after that.

    In your experience, are there any areas that are particularly reliable for white-handed gibbon?

    Also, the human-mediated ‘grasslands’ you mention… where are they to be found? Are they at the two main viewing towers? Are there others that are less frequented by people?

    Cheers,
    Braydon

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