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Shizuka’s Emotional Journey Home: Award-Winning Wildlife Photography Captures Orangutan’s Hope at Suvarnabhumi Airport

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In the bustling corridors of Suvarnabhumi airport, a heart-stopping moment was beautifully captured as Shizuka, a young orangutan with soulful eyes, gazed through her confinement window, her face a poignant mix of curiosity and an eager longing for home. This moment, immortalized in a photograph taken by the talented Bangkok Post photographer Somchai Poomlard, has not just tugged at the heartstrings of many but also earned a distinguished spot in the journalism world.

The photograph, aptly titled “Homeward Bound,” became a symbol of hope and redemption, narrating a silent yet powerful story of a journey back to where it all began. On December 21, 2023, amidst the rush of travelers and the flurry of airport activities, something extraordinary was happening. Shizuka, along with two other orangutan compatriots, was anticipating the flight that would whisk them away to their native lands of Indonesia, marking an end to their unexpected sojourn in Thailand.

The backstory of these orangutans is as gripping as the photo itself. In 2016, this trio was rescued from the clutches of a nefarious wildlife trafficking ring, a sadly common narrative in the struggle for animal conservation. For years, they were nurtured back to health in the safe havens of a Ratchaburi wildlife sanctuary, their caretakers holding onto the hope that one day, they would return to their natural habitat.

The spotlight of this poignant tale, however, shone on Shizuka. Among the three, she was the solitary female, a detail that added a layer of vulnerability and fortitude to her journey. It was in capturing Shizuka’s quiet contemplation through the cage window that Somchai Poomlard’s lens found its masterpiece. While the airport teemed with life, his focus remained fixed on Shizuka, seeking to capture the essence of her emotions – a longing glance that spoke volumes about her yearning for freedom and the familiar embrace of her homeland.

On Reporters’ Day, this striking image was given its due recognition, earning the Isra Amantakul Award and a 5,000-baht cash prize for Somchai. While accolades are commendable, what truly stood out was Somchai’s unique perspective. At a time when his peers were capturing the broader spectacle of the orangutans’ departure, Somchai chose intimacy over grandeur, focusing on the silent musings of an individual longing for home. “I wanted to use what was reflected in her eyes to show how she felt on her way back home,” he reflected, a sentiment that perfectly encapsulates the essence of his award-winning shot.

This image, and the story it represents, serves as a poignant reminder of the resilience of life and the indomitable spirit of creatures who, despite the barriers and the traumas they face, continue to inspire and awaken our deepest empathy. “Homeward Bound” transcends the realm of simple photography, becoming a beacon of hope and a reminder of the preciousness of freedom and the inherent right of all beings to dwell in their ancestral havens.

As Shizuka and her companions soared back to Indonesia on that fateful day, one can only imagine the blend of emotions that filled their hearts. Thanks to the compassionate lens of Somchai Poomlard, we were given a glimpse into that profound journey, a journey that speaks of survival, hope, and the universal longing for home.


  1. NatureLover99 March 5, 2024

    This photograph and Shizuka’s story really highlight the resilience and spirit of wildlife faced with human-inflicted adversities. It’s both heartbreaking and inspiring.

    • SkepticalSam March 5, 2024

      While the story is touching, I think it romanticizes the situation too much. Real problem is habitat destruction and this doesn’t address the cause.

      • ConservationChamp March 5, 2024

        You’ve got a point, but raising awareness through such stories is a step towards addressing the larger issue. Every bit helps.

    • NatureLover99 March 5, 2024

      Agreed, but showcasing individual stories like Shizuka’s can be a powerful way to open people’s eyes to wider conservation issues.

  2. PicturePerfect March 5, 2024

    Somchai’s choice to focus on the individual over the event is brilliant photography. It captures emotion in a way that a wider shot wouldn’t.

    • TechieTrevor March 5, 2024

      Yes, but aren’t we too focused on the human perspective? How do we know what Shizuka feels? It’s just anthropomorphism.

      • PicturePerfect March 5, 2024

        Good point, but photography is about connection. If it makes us connect and care, it’s done something right, anthropomorphism or not.

  3. EcoWarrior March 5, 2024

    This reminds us all that wildlife belongs in the wild, not as pets or entertainment. We need stricter laws globally.

    • LegalEagle March 5, 2024

      Laws are one thing, but enforcing them is another challenge. Especially in countries where wildlife trafficking generates huge profits.

    • EcoWarrior March 5, 2024

      True, enforcement is key. It’s about changing mindsets too. Stories like these help.

  4. Jaden March 5, 2024

    The photo made me feel sad. I’m happy she’s going home, but it’s unfair she had to go through this.

  5. GlobalNomad March 5, 2024

    I travel a lot and have seen how airports are not just hubs for humans but for trafficking. It’s a grim reality that needs more attention.

    • FrequentFlyer March 5, 2024

      Absolutely, it’s a side of travel we don’t often think about. Makes me wonder how many such stories go unnoticed.

  6. ArtCritique March 5, 2024

    Did anyone else feel like the article overly romanticizes the photographer’s role? It’s about the orangutan, not the person behind the camera.

    • Shutterbug March 5, 2024

      I see your point, but without the photographer, would Shizuka’s story reach us? It’s a partnership of storytelling.

    • ArtCritique March 5, 2024

      Partnership I get, but let’s not forget the real heroes are the rescuers and those fighting for wildlife every day.

  7. RealityCheck March 5, 2024

    Stories like these are heartwarming, but don’t be fooled. For every success story, there are countless animals still suffering. We need more action.

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