The director of Hirakawa Zoo in Japan has reportedly publicly stated his zoo wishes to acquire two Asian elephants currently housed at Teuk Chhou Zoo in Kampot province as part of a controversial animal swap deal.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday in the southern Japanese city of Kagoshima, where Hirakawa Zoo is located, Masamichi Ono confirmed the trade is in the process of being agreed and was initiated by his zoo, according to remarks made available by a Japanese animal-rights campaigner monitoring the transaction.
According to Ono, despite previous reports the trade would be completed in early 2016, it is unlikely to go ahead in the near future.
“We think it will take some years to complete the trade as we are negotiating with Cambodia for the first time,” he was quoted as saying during the press conference at Kagoshima City Hall.
Ono claimed representatives of the Hirakawa Zoo did not see any neglect or suffering during an August visit to Teuk Chhou Zoo, which will receive animals from Hirakawa in return.
But he said he was unaware EARS Asia were involved in the care of elephants Kiri and Seila, despite the fact the conservation NGO had funded their current enclosure and all of their care for the past three years.
Late last month, Teuk Chhou Zoo owner Nhim Vanda ejected EARS Asia from the zoo, amid mounting pressure for the trade to be called off.
Since learning of the proposed trade in August, EARS Asia has voiced its strong opposition due to fears that the journey would be overly stressful for the animals and that any animals received in exchange by Teuk Chhou Zoo would not be properly cared for.
In an interview in late August, Vanda admitted he did not have the funds to properly care for the animals he currently owns.
During a visit to the zoo that same day, the Post witnessed hungry animals in varying states of neglect and many displaying signs of psychological distress, while some were seen living with injuries.
Speaking yesterday, EARS Asia Welfare director Fiona Hardie questioned whether Hirakawa Zoo had done sufficient research before going into the trade, given how much readily available publicity EARS Asia’s support for the elephants has generated over the past three years.
“They need to take the time to do their own due diligence instead of forging ahead with something that is potentially embarrassing for them,” she said. “I would ask them to please look at who they are dealing with.”