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
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
Put simply, with all their hard work saving animals, there's no harm in saving the
French language as well.