The Hog Deer gets its name from the hog-like (or pig-like) manner in which it runs with head hung low to duck under obstacles instead of leaping over them like most other deer.
Habitat degradation and hunting lead to near extinction of this species throughout Thailand. Restoration of the Hog Deer’s place in the fauna of Thailand is a prime focus of the Huai Sai Wildlife Breeding Centre as part of a Royal Project in Cha-Am. Hog deer are relatively small with varying dark brown to yellow brown fur and white-tipped tails. The animals prefer tall, wet grasslands usually near medium or large rivers and typically avoid densely forested areas.In the past, this area had abundant natural resources and was once a habitat for wildlife, particularly the hog deer as an indigenous species.
The name ‘Huai Sai’ means the creek of the hog deer. Back in 1924, His Majesty King Vajiravudh declared Huai Sai as part of the area within the compound of Mrigadayavan Palace, with all forms of harm against animals prohibited. However, within 30 years, the Huai Sai area was severely exploited with encroachment for farming purposes, particularly pineapple plantations and the misuse of chemicals led to ecological systems deteriorating. The land became arid and barren with topsoil eroded. In April 1983, King Bhumibol visited the site and witnessed the damaged conditions of the land.
He commented that “If we leave this area alone, it will become a desert.” His Majesty initiated the establishment of the Huai Sai Royal Development Study Centreinitiative to develop the area of about 15,880 Rai as a Royal Project. Then in June 1990 an additional focus became the propagation of wildlife, especially deer. This became the Huai Sai Wildlife Breeding Centrewhich has an area of 300 Rai. Despite being listed by Tripadvisor as one of the places to visit in Cha-Am, the Centre could hardly be described as a tourist attraction. However visitors are welcome to stroll around the grounds and see many creatures with local origins to see the real ‘Unseen Thailand’. Visitors can see you can see rare species of wildlife including reptiles, birds and monkeys. The unusual include the fishing cat, smooth-coated otter, pileated gibbon, dusky langer, Malayan porcupine, binturong bearcat and of course the deer. Animal accommodation may not always be ideal with many concrete-floored cages but there are also unfenced but moated islands with acrobatic gibbons showing off their gymnastic skills in the trees and suspended ropes.
The host for our visit was the Chief of the Centre Khun Amnat Sonjai who manages some 40 staff, including vetinary assistance. He talked about how hog deer bred at the Centre have been sent to establish colonies in Ratchaburi, Kui Buri National Park, Chanthaburi, Kanchanaburi and Chachoengsao. There’s still a long way to go before sustainable populations return, but extinction seems have been overcome. It’s also fair to say that challenges continue for land restoration and reforestation at Huai Sai. Dry seasons and water shortages remain an issue and for the animals the threat of bird flu has previously needed the exclusion of visitors for a period of years. It is apparent that there really needs a long-term commitment and effort by all the agencies involved.
WHERE: Mid way between Hua Hin and Cha-Am there is a road heading inland which is clearly marked as the way to Lakeview Golf Course. About 4 kilometres along this road and up a slight incline the perimeter fencing can be seen on the left followed by the entry gate. After entering you’ll see signs for the office and left to the ‘zoo’. However we were clearly told this should not be referred to as a zoo despite the sign, perhaps a poorly translated description. Please note the Tripadvisor map is way off course and should be ignored.
OPEN: Daily from 8.30 am – 4.30 pm. No admissions charges. There is a small shop next to the car parking area which may have animal feed available.
NOTES: A visit may be worthwhile for special interest groups or educational purposes. Big groups may be assisted (Thai language only), contact Khun Jakapu by phoning 089 551 3606, 092 206 2696.