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Wild, exotic congress at Siem Reap

The first international French-language Congress on Wild and Exotic Animals, held

in Cambodia, sought to raise awareness of the importance of conservation - not to

mention how to castrate rabbits, repair multiple fractures in a springbok and perform

an endoscope on a reptile.

Organized by Parisian Cambodian veterinarian Norin Chai, the congress was held in

Siem Reap February 3-5, and attracted 68 guests from Belgium, France, Italy and Cambodia,

most of whom were vets but also included some medical doctors and pharmacists.

The congress had ten invited speakers and a handbook with 35 research papers, most

of which discussed conservation and diseases in wild animals. Avian flu was not on

the agenda. "We didn't discuss it," said Chai. "When I was preparing

the congress, there was no bird flu!"

Now the head veterinarian of the natural history museum in Paris, Chai has had a

long and established profile in conservation which he describes as a leisure activity,

albeit a big one.

When working in a national park in Chad, Africa, for three years, Chai realized he

could not address conservation without addressing social issues as well.

"Conservation has a separate meaning for each country. Cambodia is only now

waking up from genocide. First it needs education, then it needs religion. It can

be very hard to convince people of the need for conservation when they have no job

or food on the table."

As a Cambodian himself and with a heavy involvement in promoting conservation here

through the Yaboumba project, Chai thought this country was the most appropriate

location for the congress.

He helps to manage a zoological park in Kampot which features many species seen only

in Cambodia, as well as a handful of ostriches. A major objective of the park is

to create a breeding program to reintroduce native species to the wild.

Addressing education concerns in conjunction with conservation, Chai has distributed

books to schools throughout the country, given two computers to Rokar Kandal pagoda

in Kratie Province. In Kandal province he has also built a stupa in a pagoda with

the intention of displaying information about conservation within its confines.

The next step for Chai is to increase publicity about his organization, with the

aim to conduct a congress every two or three years.

In other countries, Chai's projects - funded with proceeds from magazines on wild

and exotic animals which he publishes - include an annual conservation scholarship

worth 1000 Euros. A recent recipient used the money to teach socially disadvantaged

kids in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to reintegrate injured and domesticated birds back into

the wild.

With the importance of conservation being self-explanatory, why did they conduct

the conference in French language?

"There were already many similar conferences held in English language,"

said Chai. "Not to mention almost all scientific literature written in English

as well."

Put simply, with all their hard work saving animals, there's no harm in saving the

French language as well.

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