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Criticism of wildlife centre far from deserved

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A serow and her kid at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre in July. Photograph: Wildlife Alliance

Dear Editor,

I feel clarification is needed of the misinformed article on the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre (PTWRC) published in The Phnom Penh Post’s 7Days weekend magazine on July 27, and I am grateful to be given the opportunity to do so.

PTWRC is the only government run-wildlife rescue centre in Cambodia. It is managed by the Cambodian Forestry Administration.

Wildlife Alliance is fundamental to the care of the animals here. Ten years ago, when we began our work, the centre was in very poor condition because of insufficient funds.

Now, thanks to the excellent co-operation between Wildlife Alliance and the Forestry Administration, it is probably one of the best government-run wildlife rescue centres anywhere in the world.

Rescued wild animals are brought to PTWRC on a daily basis and, despite their injuries, most thrive here.

No wild animal is ever turned away. Most of them, including elephants and tigers, would be dead without our intervention.

PTWRC is set in 2,300 hectares of forest, and the animals enjoy large, forested enclosures, many with large pools. They are healthy and enjoy a balanced, natural diet.

Most breed and care for their young themselves, which is a fair sign that they are healthy and content.

How many Western menageries, where animals often struggle to breed and babies frequently need to be hand-raised by their human keepers, can boast the same?

Our animals can often be released back into the wild once the injuries inflicted by hunters during their capture have healed.

Two years ago, I released a family of binturongs – large arboreal civets, also called bear cats – which were born at Phnom Tamao. We are monitoring these; they are thriving and increasing in number.

The 7Days article is so inaccurate that I feel the reporter cannot have visited the centre. Indeed, she refused to meet me in person, either in Phnom Penh or at PTWRC, and did not meet the Forestry Administration director either.

“ . . . small enclosures with modest ponds and little vegetation . . .” Depending on the species inside them, most of the enclosures are large and forested – PTWRC is inside a forest, and we usually have to incorporate only an area of trees to create a natural enclosure.

I agree the yellow-throated martens’ cage is small, and we hope we will soon have the funds – around $3,000 – to change this.

I would point out, however, that these highly strung, hyperactive animals have also bred and raised their young in this cage, so it cannot be too bad.

Obtaining water has always been a problem for us, but most enclosures have good-sized pools.

“Fervently berated on travel forums . . . ” It seems the Trip Advisor website is the sole place the reporter obtained her information, as the descriptions are very wide of the mark.

“ . . . animals pacing back and forth, back and forth . . . ” Our animals do little, if any, stereotyping, as most of the enclosures are large and well furnished – the otters have pools, the gibbons have branches, the serow have rocks to climb.

A tiger patrolling a dividing fence is protecting his territory from the tiger next door, and will soon get tired and lie down in the shade of the trees.

If the reporter had checked Lonely Planet, however, there is a very different view: “The way things are developing, Phnom Tamao is set to become one of the region’s best-run animal sanctuaries in the coming years . . . the perfect place to discover more about the incredible variety of animals in Cambodia.”

I must agree, however, that Phnom Tamao is not perfect, and it would be correct to say that conditions for visitors are a tad sparse.

There is no bar or coffee shop, food at the eating area is adequate but basic, there is no fancy architecture or smooth tarmac roads, and not a great deal of shade.
Some might say, “So what?”

It’s also correct to say that signage is extremely poor at present. We must work on this, time and money permitting.

Right now, all the money we raise — a lot of it from my own pocket — goes on caring for the rescued wildlife that arrives daily.

Between the Cambodian Forestry Administration and Wildlife Alliance, we are doing our best to ensure the wild animals at PTWRC —most of them rescued from the extremely cruel illegal wildlife trade, which Wildlife Alliance is also combating — continue to receive the best treatment.

If we are failing in our mission, I would be extremely happy to hear fair and constructive criticism of exactly what we are doing wrong.

And if these words are backed with the necessary cash, it will be much easier for me to correct the problem.

Nick Marx
Director, wildlife rescue and care programs Wildlife Alliance
Send letters to: newsroom@phnompenhpost.com
The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.

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