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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rescued animals moved to Phnom Tamao

Rescued animals moved to Phnom Tamao

SIEM REAP - At 2:30 pm on April 27, a government team armed with AK-47 assault

rifles entered Angkor Zoo - a tourist attraction adjacent to the Angkor Wat

temple complex in Siem Reap - and secured the premises ahead of its imminent


The scene was tense, but the takeover proceeded without

incident. The encroaching force of police and members of the Forestry

Administration's Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team, with technical help from Wildlife

Alliance, closed down the facility in a move that conservationists and tourists

have been calling for since the zoo's opening in 2000.

"The cages are, at

best, hopelessly inadequate, at worst, downright cruel," said Nick Marx, animal

husbandry specialist for Wildlife Alliance, formerly Wildaid, in a May 2006

evaluation conducted with the government. "As it stands, Angkor Zoo is cruel and

squalid. It detracts from the quality of the setting, and demeans the historical

World Heritage site where it is situated."

In an April interview with the

Post, zookeeper Peav Hong said the facility could only spend about half of what

was needed to feed the animals, and admitted that the enclosures were too small.

At the time, Men Phymean, chief of the FA's Wildlife Protection office, said he

had petitioned the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to allow him

to shutter the zoo and relocate its inhabitants to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue

Center near Phnom Penh.

But Angkor Zoo's Phnom Penh-based owner, Seng

Chhoeun, vowed to fight any order to close and claimed to have the support of

some 300 local families. He defended the zoo as attractive for tourists,

educational and aimed at wildlife preservation.

At the gates of the zoo

on April 27, local families and stall owners watched the raid in silent dread.

The zoo's closure comes only days after the neighboring landmine museum left for

a new location, and many villagers said the moves will devastate their tiny


"A lot of people visit here," said Pin Yet, a local mother

and one of 11 former employees of Angkor Zoo. "Many people sell things, but now

there will be no people. The village will be very quiet. No visitors means no


But Yet agreed she often felt pity for the animals during the time

she worked there.

"I like the animals so much," Yet said. "But we don't

have enough food to make them full. For the animals it will be very happy, but

for us it is sad because we will have no jobs."

On April 30, the zoo's

owner, Seng Chhoeun, said he was unhappy with the closure as the zoo helped the

poor people in the area. He claimed that he did not gain financially from the

zoo, but estimated he has lost around $1,000 due to the closure.


who was on hand to assist the government in evaluating the welfare of the

animals, said after an initial inspection that the biggest veterinary problem

appeared to be parasites.

As a lone otter barked pleadingly at passing

officials, Marx explained that the playful animals are highly social creatures

and to keep one alone is unkind. He will soon join a young female in a large

enclosure at the Phnom Tamao Zoo and Wildlife Rescue center.

According to

Marx, the animals will remain on the premises under the care of former

zookeepers assisted by members of the WRRT - a law enforcement squad consisting

of Royal Gendarmerie and Cambodian Forestry Officials.

"The WRRT will be

working along with the current zoo staff so there will be no sudden changes for

the animals," Marx said, adding that until further notice the keepers' wages

would be covered by Wildlife Alliance aid funding.

"I think the problem

here has been a lack of money," he said. "My feeling is there has probably been

no deliberate cruelty."

He explained that the transition must be

gradual, for instance, carnivores that have been fed rice for many years will

slowly have meat reintroduced into their diets. The quantity of food will also

be increased gradually over time.

Long term, some of the animals will be

released and new enclosures will be prepared at Phnom Tamao Zoo and Wildlife

Rescue center near Phnom Penh for those that can not be safely returned to the




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