The PM - seen here releasing a crane at Phnom Tamao zoo - took the occasion to attack illegal logging and poaching, stressing the importance of preserving Cambodia's forest areas.
Prime Minister Hun Sen used the opening of Cambodia's only zoo to launch another
attack on illegal forestry and poaching.
Speaking at the January 25 ceremony marking the official opening of Phnom Tamao Zoo
and Wildlife Rescue Center Hun Sen said he had vanquished the Khmer Rouge hard-liners
so he expected little problem dealing with illegal loggers and wildlife poachers
whom he said threatened the future of the country.
"I appeal to all those who are still involved in illegal logging and poaching
to give up this destructive business, which continues to be a serious offense damaging
the interests of the whole society," he said.
"From now on, we should not only not destroy the forests and wildlife, but take
common actions to promote the conscience of protecting and conserving the forest
and wildlife, upholding and rigorously enforcing laws and regulations in order to
establish the rule of law and promote development which is in harmony with the natural
environment in the Kingdom of Cambodia"
He reiterated his determination to put illegal loggers in jail and also to ban weapons
used to kill animals and birds, even slingshots.
Hun Sen officially opened Phnom Tamao by cutting a red ribbon and awarding medals
to people running the zoo and its sponsors.
He said the zoo could become the best in Asia because of its favorable geographic
location and rich natural forest, but it needed more support from international partners.
He also told spectators of discussions with Laos and Vietnam about cooperating on
wildlife protection along the border areas. Thailand would also be approached in
Cambodia's wildlife recognized no borders and many animals had fled to neighboring
countries during recent wars.
The anti-logging theme was also pushed by Men Py Mean, chief of the Forestry Department's
wildlife office who also spoke at the opening.
"If we destroy the forest, that means we destroy the wildlife because they have
no habitat," he said.
The zoo has been in service as an animal collection center since 1995.
It is home to more than 500 animals and birds from 86 species, including tigers,
lions, banteng, sun bears, cranes, peacocks and monitor lizards. Most of them were
confiscated from would-be smugglers. The zoo, currently 80 hectares in size, will
eventually expand to cover 1200 hectares.
Hun Sen also visited the zoo's education center where a group of young students read
out a story called "Forest is our Life" organized by the Mlup Baitong NGO.
The story talked about a tree under threat from illegal logging, climate change and
wildlife trafficking. All the animals depended on the tree. The story ended with
the rabbit replanting the tree.
The Prime Minister also visited the zoo's museum and released a few animals and waterbirds
into the park, before climbing onto Sambo, a 37-year-old elephant, and riding off
to open the new tiger enclosure, paid for by British-based Care for the Wild International.
Hun Sen also had a dig at the Ministry of Tourism, which had been in a dispute with
the Forestry Department over control of the zoo.
"The tourist ministry should not use their brains for thinking about how to
feed the animals. You are have no technical skill, just helping the finance and bringing
the tourists to visit here is enough," he said, drawing laughter from the assembled
Wildlife office head Men Py Mean said Phnom Tamao needed about US$105,000 per year
just for feeding and medicines, excluding expenses such as infrastructure and wildlife
He said the zoo needed on-going support from international organizations as the government
provided money for only food and infrastructure costs.
"We will not stop at this point. We will contact international organizations
or donors to support and help us to improve this zoo."
The new tiger enclosure, which covered one hectare and included five holding cages,
was an example of what was needed. Its three current residents, 9-year-old Kamix
and 14-month-old brother and sister Map and Tomi, were all confiscated from the illegal
Men Py Mean said one initiative Phnom Tamao was considering was to exchange animals
with other zoos.
"The zoo has no policy on buying wildlife from other countries, but we can exchange
with them, giving them what they want for what we want."
Minister of Agriculture Chhea Song said the zoo had four purposes: to preserve and
rescue important wildlife species confiscated from illegal exploitation and trade;
to educate people about the current status of wildlife and persuade them to love
and help to preserve wildlife; to support scientific studies of an international
standard to help determine strategies for wildlife conservation; and to attract both
local and international visitors in order to demonstrate that Cambodia is a country
rich in wildlife.
Koy Tong, deputy director of the zoo, said it would help people get to know animals.
Developing close relationships between human beings and wildlife would stop hunting.