In February 2012 Pollyanna set out on her latest expedition to study and paint endangered species. The jungles of Vietnam and Thailand are home to a diverse range of wildlife – from Indochinese tigers to langurs & elephants. Pollyanna spent six weeks trekking in National Parks and nature reserves.
While on a night trek in the Cuc Phuong Reserve in Vietnam, Pollyanna was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of the rarest cats of all – the clouded leopard (right). “ Anna-Louise and I were trekking with a naturalist based at the park's headquarters, and the object of our quest was actually the slow loris” Pollyanna recounted “and we had been lucky enough to see them moving through the upper branches of the trees, their huge eyes glowing like headlamps in the strong beam of the torch carried by our guide. We had also spotted flying squirrels – another species I had never observed in the wild before. But we didn't imagine that we would be lucky enough to encounter one of the rarest cats to be found in these areas.”
Although it was little more than a glimpse of a shadow passing through the dense trees, the experience stayed with Pollyanna and will no doubt inspire a series of paintings of these beautifully marked cats. While in Cuc Phuong, which is renowned for its diversity of bird species, Pollyanna also visited two excellent conservation projects – a turtle sanctuary and primate rescue centre. Turtles have become extremely endangered in Vietnam, due to poaching. Sadly many of them end up on the dining tables of China, where the demand for turtle soup appears insatiable. As well as providing a haven for rescued turtles the project has an ongoing awareness campaign to highlight the plight of the turtles among the local population, and to encourage them to report poachers.
The Cuc Phuong Primate Centre rescues and cares for injured and orphaned primates, and rehabilitates them back into the wild. Pollyanna was able to sketch a wide range of species including the cat bar langur which is endemic to a small group of islands in the Ha Long Bay, gibbons, and even the slow and pygmy lorises she had previously only seen by torch light.
After her stay in Vietnam, Pollyanna travelled into Thailand. She visited several national parks, including Khao Yai, the second largest in Thailand, covering an area of 2,168 square kilometers, including evergreen forests and grasslands. The park is home to 3,000 species of plants, 320 species of birds and 66 species of mammals, including Asiatic black bear, Asian elephant, gaur,gibbon, Indian sambar deer, and the pig-tailed macaque. One of the highlights of Pollyanna's visit to this region was witnessing the remarkable spectacle of a million bats leaving Khao Luk Chang cave at dusk – an apparently never ending stream flying out into the darkening sky. Pollyanna descended into the same cave system to observe and sketch other bat species roosting on the walls and ceilings. While down there she also came face to face with some of the other cave residents – scorpion spiders and cave millipedes. “It is incredible to consider what a diversity of life lives in the dark – we so rarely have the chance to observe the unique creatures which survive in the cave ecosystem” Pollyanna commented.
In the light of day, the national park revealed a beautiful array of birdlife – including chestnut headed bee eaters, one of Pollyanna's favourite species to paint – as well as kingfishers and hornbills. Pollyanna also had ample opportunity to sketch wild Asiatic elephants, and some of the park’s primates.
Pollyanna and Anna-Louise found the Vietnamese town of Tam Dao unlike any place they have ever visited. At 1,100m above sea level, it sits on the steep upper slopes of a mountain, enveloped in cloud for most of the year. The intrepid pair were visiting Tam Dao as it is the closest town to the Animals Asia Sanctuary where they hoped to meet Polly, one of the resident moon bears. The Pollyanna Pickering Foundation was able to fund Polly's rescue from an illegal bile farm in the southern province of Binh Duong, near Ho Chi Minh City, and with the help of our supporters, continues to fund Polly's ongoing care at the sanctuary. Pollyanna was able to be part of Polly bear's story from the very beginning – news of 14 bears awaiting rescue in Vietnam came through while Pollyanna was sitting having a cup if tea with Jill Robinson, the founder of Animals Asia in their sanctuary in China. Through the Foundation Pollyanna was able to provide funding for the rescue of one of the bears – and able to follow the details of the rescue and Polly's journey every step of the way.
Pollyanna was thrilled to observe a wild elephant in Thailand - however she was able to get even closer to the elephants when she spent a few days volunteering at the Baan Chang elephant sanctuary near Chiang Mai. The sanctuary is dedicated to providing abused elephants with the highest quality-of-life possible.
Staying and working at the park, Pollyanna and Anna-Louise began their days by feeding the elephants – and cleaning out their enclosure. “We learnt how to recognize healthy elephant poo, and what dietary alterations were needed if the elephant's digestive systems were not working as they should be – knowledge I am sure will prove useful in the future!” Pollyanna commented. “We also learnt how to ride the elephants 'mahout' style – sitting behind their ears, and guiding them with a series of commands. The highlight of our stay was riding our elephants up into the forested mountain behind the sanctuary. We stopped at the top of the mountain with our mahouts, who lit a camp fire and cooked rice and vegetables for a picnic, while the elephant were left to roam completely free in the forest. We could see the tops of trees shaking in the distance while the elephants tried to pull them down!”
Twice a day Pollyanna and Anna-Louise would bathe their elephants – riding them into a lake, and then splashing them down with buckets of water, while scrubbing their backs with brushes. “this was undoubtedly the elephant's favourite part of the day” Pollyanna recalled “and ours too! I don't think I have ever been so wet and muddy and messy in my life – as we washed the elephants they would gather trunks full of water and spray them over us as well! - but I also don't think I have ever laughed so much either!”
In the calm of the evenings and early mornings, Pollyanna was able to sit quietly in the sanctuary with her sketch pad and enjoy this amazing opportunity to capture the character of the elephants. She has returned from her journey into Asia with a folder full of sketches and ideas, which is sure to inspire an exhibition of new paintings in the coming months.