Tomistoma Task Force Workshop Participants, Pattaya, Thailand, March 2008. That’s me in the blue shirt and white beard just off the tail of the croc.
In March of 2008 I traveled to Pattaya, Thailand to attend meetings of the Tomistoma Task Force, a sub group of the Crocodile Specialists Group. I was there to present my painting of Tomistoma for fund raising for the group. A print was presented to our host, Uthen Youngprapakorn, and I set up a small display of prints for workshop participants to peruse.
It was my first trip to Thailand. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to get out into the bush. I did get to see lots of crocodiles at Uthen’s three croc farms, at Pattaya, Utrairacht, and Sumaprapakorn.
Uthen has bred more Tomistoma schlegeli than any other facility in the world. I believe it was 700 offspring that he produced in 2008. He had a tank full of hatchlings on display during the meetings.
I’ll bet that nearly everyone there fantasized about stuffing one of these cuties in their pocket. A CITES Appendix 1 listing carries some hefty penalties for smugglers, so taking one home remained a fantasy. While there are many zoos that would love to display and breed these wonderful crocs, the difficulties of getting permits means that most offspring in Uthen’s farms become surplus animals. He apparently experimented with taxidermied specimens (for local sale, I suppose). Several of these were present in the meeting rooms. The leather from this species is useless because of boney ossicles in the scutes. Uthen remains committed to breeding Tomistoma. We can only hope that it becomes possible to use them for zoo breeding programs around the world, and to replenish wild stocks.
At the welcome dinner at Uthen’s farm in Pattaya, we were served Siamese Crocodile in our pad thai. Thus I again violated my personal taboo against eating reptiles and amphibians. I can’t say I enjoyed it. I enjoyed even less seeing intact C. siamensis feet floating in the pad thai tray. Some of the particpants posed for pictures while munching on croc feet, I suppose to shock their colleagues back home. At least the animals were not slaughtered for our benefit… it was surplus meat after the farm harvested skins. It was a great meal, though, and serving the croc meat in this context did not offend anyone to my knowledge.
While in Bangkok I visited the Weekend Market at Chatuchak where there is an extensive pet market. It is possible to obtain nearly any species there if you have the connections. I enjoy open markets in foreign countries, and this one was fascinating because of its size. The aquarium section took up several blocks, with fish of every description available there.
Many occupied rows of plastic bags lined up on the sidewalk. Other shops offered birds of all types (“No photo, no photo!”), reptiles of all kinds including deadly venomous species, mammals, etc. There was a fighting cock market as well, including several fights in progress. We wandered a warren of small shops and alleyways for hours, assaulted and seduced by the smells, sights and sounds. While it was interesting, it was also very depressing to see such a thriving black market in endangered species. However, it was heartening to know that there was a major bust of animal smugglers in this market shortly after my visit.
I snapped this photo before the shop owner chased me out, screaming, “No photo! No photo!”
Bangkok was just another big metropolis. Crowded, polluted and hot, I can’t say I enjoyed it very much. The temples were fascinating, the people were wonderful, and I enjoyed the food a lot, BUT, traffic jams and pollution suck no matter what country you’re in. At least these jams had the occasional elephant waiting patiently with the cars. The street market provided a repetitive display of tourist trinkets, and prostitutes called from massage parlor storefronts. I hope to get back to Thailand to see more of the natural attractions. I could see some tempting jungle covered mountains in the distance, and have seen the photos of karst towers at Phuket. Meanwhile, I had a great chance to get up close and personal with crocs. So far I have produced one scratchboard drawing as a result of the trip. It is a New Guinea Crocodile. See my website for a large version, prints available soon.