Thai gibbon sanctuary survives killings of staff
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2004:
Phop Phra, Tak, Thailand– The William E. Deters Foundation
For Gibbon and Wildlife Conservation Projects, founded in 1996 as
the Highland Farm & Gibbon Sanctuary, is recovering from perhaps the
most violent transition of leadership any sanctuary has ever endured.
On May 10, 2002, cofounder William Emeral Deters, 69,
housekeeper Ratchanee Sonkhamleu, 26, her three-year-old daughter,
Hmong worker Laeng sae Yang, and a Thai worker known only as Subin
were massacred during a botched robbery. Of the key personnel, only
cofounder Pharanee Deters, 60, remained.
But the animals still needed to be fed.
“My mind was in a dark hole for a long time,” Pharanee
Deters told ANIMAL PEOPLE in a recent update e-mail. “Very sad,
upset, suffering, depressed, angry–you name it, I had it all. I
even thought about eliminating myself. But every day I would think,
“If I am gone, who will take care of the 37 gibbons, six monkeys,
the birds, the dogs, the cats, the geese, the turkeys. So here I
am, still alive and working harder to keep these creatures alive and
“When Bill was alive, he was the creator and I was the doer.
Now I have to do both,” Pharanee Deters continued, with words of
appreciation for Edwin Wick, director of Wildlife Friends of
Thailand, and Roger Lohanan, director of the Thai Animal Guardians
Association. Wick and three volunteers helped maintain the sanctuary
for about two months after the murders. Lohanan and eight volunteers
helped for two weeks after Wick’s team left.
“If they had not come, I probably could not have this place
now,” Pharantee Deters said.
William Deters’ murder forced a quick transition from
operating on his pension from Lockheed Inc., where he formerly
headed the computer department, to seeking donor and grant support.
Highland Farm became the William E. Deters Foundation on June 16,
2002, surviving with financial help from the Monkey World sanctuary
operated by Jim and Alison Cronin in Dorset, England; the
International Primate Protection League, now of South Carolina but
founded in Thailand in 1973; and the ARCUS Foundation, a major
supporter of many primate rescue projects.
“Also some friends and family have helped me. I feel much
appreciated,” Pharanee Deters wrote.
The sanctuary weathered another crisis in November 2002.
Responding to an allegation that the sanctuary was a front for an
illegal game farm, about 30 armed forestry police officers raided
one evening, threatened to jail Pharanee Deters and her sister, and
seized 36 gibbons, four monkeys, and eight peacocks, but allowed
them to remain on the premises pending completion of the paperwork
required to operate as a nonprofit.
“We were trying to help to save the animals of Thailand, and
what we received for it was unbelievable,” Pharantee Deters recalled.
The raid came almost a year before the Thai national police
initiated a crackdown of unprecedented scope on both illegal wildlife
trafficking and sales of dog meat, described in the December 2003
edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Pharanee Deters called the recent raids “Very good news. It
means Thai people have started to change their mind to protect the
poor animals. Still,” she said, “there are some people who eat
exotic animals. They think that it will make their lives healthier
and their love lives better, which is wrong,” she mused, citing
the love she enjoyed looking after animals with her late husband,
and the love she still receives from the animals.
Just answering e-mail requires her to drive 30 miles to the
nearest telephone line, but “We still have volunteers coming from
all over to study about gibbons,” Pharanee Deters said. “Some
donors adopt our gibbons. I am doing okay, with the help of many
nice people around the world.”
[Contact the William E. Deters Foundation For Gibbon and
Wildlife Conservation Projects c/o P.O. Box 24, A.Mae Sot, Tak
63110, Thailand; <highland_ape@-hotmail.com>;