Miracle of ‘Wild Boars’ rescue transforms Thai cave into tourist draw

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Visitors pose for photos in front of a statue of Saman Gunan, the Thai diver who died during the efforts to rescue the ‘Wild Boars’ football team and their coach. (AFP)
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Visitors board a shuttle car to take them to the entrance of the Tham Luang cave. (AFP)
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Visitors take photos in front of artwork illustrating the rescue of the ‘Wild Boars’ football team and their coach, who were trapped in the Tham Luang cave last year. (AFP)
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A US tourist looks at his souvenir photos taken near the entrance of the Tham Luang cave. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2019
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Miracle of ‘Wild Boars’ rescue transforms Thai cave into tourist draw

  • Between October 2018 and April this year alone 1.3 million people have visited the cave complex
  • The government now has big plans for the area around the storied Tham Luang cave

MAE SAI, Thailand: Tourists snap selfies by a bronze statue of the diver who died trying to save the ‘Wild Boars’ football team from a flooded cave, while mementos from their rescue fly off the shelves — scooped up by the 1.3 million people who have descended on a once serene mountainside in northern Thailand.
“It’s amazing what happened here. I followed everything from Australia,” tourist John McGowan said after taking photos at the visitor center around 100 meters from the Tham Luang cave entrance.
“I wanted to see it with my own eyes,” the 60-year-old said, adding he was a little disappointed the cave is still off limits to visitors.
For a few dollars, tourists can get framed photos at the site, pick up posters of the footballers and take home a souvenir t-shirt — some printed with the face of Saman Gunan the Thai diver who died in the bid to save the group.
There has been extraordinary global interest in the picturesque rural backwater of Mae Sai since 12 youngsters — aged between 11 and 16 — and their coach entered the Tham Luang cave on June 23, 2018.
They quickly became trapped by rising water levels and the daring, unprecedented mission to extract them through twisting flooded passageways captivated the world for 18 nail-biting days.
When they emerged — after being heavily sedated and maneuvered out by expert divers — they did so into the center of a global media frenzy.
The cave, which previously received around 5,000 visitors a year, has since been inundated by visitors both Thai and foreign.
“A miracle has happened here with these children,” Singaporean tourist Cheong, giving one name, said but adding Tham Luang “must still have a spiritual side” despite the mass popularity.
Mae Sai district, where the cave is located, was considered off the beaten track for foreign visitors.
But between October 2018 and April this year alone “1.3 million people visited,” site manager Kawee Prasomphol said.
The government now has big plans for the area around the storied cave, Kawee added, allocating a total of 50 million baht ($1.6 million) including a shopping complex, restaurants, hotels and several campsites outside the national park.
Vans disgorge streams of tourists who explore a visitor hub where the centerpiece is a mural entitled “The Heroes.”
It depicts the young footballers, stars of the rescue, and junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha — a reminder of the governmental fingerprints in aiding their cause.
At the heart of the mural is the beaming face of Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out of oxygen attempting to establish an airline to the children and their coach — the only fatality across the near three-week rescue mission.
Laying white flowers at the foot of his bronze statue, Thai nurse Sumalee, who traveled four hours to the site, described him as “the hero of the whole country” in a sobering reminder of the risks involved in the rescue amid the blizzard of marketing opportunities now attached to the cave story.
Nearby lottery ticket vendors are capitalizing on the perceived good fortune linked to the boys’ survival and the folkloric appeal of a nearby shrine. The number of stalls has mushroomed from a few dozen to around 250.
Kraingkrai Kamsuwan, 60, who moved his stall to the site weeks after the rescue, sells 4,000 tickets a month ($2.5) but reckons more will visitors will arrive once the cave reopens.
He said: “People want to gamble after wishing for luck from the shrine.”


Rare footage of Brazil tribe threatened by loggers: activists

Grab of a video shot by Midia India on August 2018 and released by Survival International activits of a purportedly uncontacted member of a Brazilian indigenous tribe hunting in the Amazon rainforest near Sao Luis, Maranhao, Brazil. (AFP)
Updated 37 min 16 sec ago
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Rare footage of Brazil tribe threatened by loggers: activists

  • Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has been accused of harming the Amazon rainforest and indigenous peoples in order to benefit loggers, miners and farmers who helped get him elected

RIO DE JANEIRO: Rare footage of purportedly uncontacted members of a Brazilian indigenous tribe hunting in the Amazon rainforest was released Monday by activists who warn the group could be wiped out by logging.
The 58-second clip filmed in the northern state of Maranhao shows members of the Awa tribe, which Survival International says has been frequently attacked by loggers who have been emboldened by pro-business President Jair Bolsonaro.
“Only a global outcry stands between them and genocide,” said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, which published the video that had been shot by a member of neighboring indigenous tribe Guajajara. The footage was shot in August, the NGO said.
“Loggers have already killed many of their relatives and forced others out of the forest.
“President Bolsonaro and his friends in the logging industry would like nothing more than for those who still survive to be eliminated.”
In the footage, a young man holding a machete in the rainforest appears to sniff the blade before he looks toward the person filming him. Seconds later he and other members of the tribe carrying spears run away.
“We didn’t have the Awa’s permission to film, but we know that it’s important to use these images because if we don’t show them around the world, the Awa will be killed by loggers,” said Erisvan Guajajara of Midia India, an indigenous film-making association.
Members of the Guajajara tribe belong to the Guardians of the Amazon group, which aims to protect isolated indigenous people.
While most Awa have been contacted, some are known to still live uncontacted in an area of rainforest that is being “rapidly destroyed,” Survival International said.
Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has been accused of harming the Amazon rainforest and indigenous peoples in order to benefit loggers, miners and farmers who helped get him elected.
Bolsonaro, whose anti-environment rhetoric has included a pledge to end “Shiite ecologist activism,” has questioned the latest official figures showing deforestation increased 88 percent in June compared with the same period last year.
He uses the word “Shiite” as a synonym for radicalism rather than denoting a branch of Islam.
“We are experiencing a real environmental psychosis,” Bolsonaro said Sunday.
Bolsonaro also accused foreign journalists Friday of wanting Brazil’s estimated 800,000 indigenous people to remain in a “prehistoric state, without access to technology, science and the thousand wonders of modernity.”