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Wildlife officials say Angkor Zoo 'cruel and squalid'

Wildlife officials say Angkor Zoo 'cruel and squalid'

Following years of complaints from tourists and critical reports from wildlife experts,

calls to shut down Angkor Zoo, adjacent to the Angkor Wat temple complex, may finally

be answered this month.

Men Phymean, chief of the Wildlife Protection Office (WPO) of the Forestry Administration

said he had already sent several letters to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry

and Fisheries (MAFF) asking to shutter the zoo and relocate the animals to Phnom

Tamao Wildlife Rescue center outside Phnom Penh. According to Phymean, the animals

at Angkor Zoo are not properly fed nor caged, and do not receive proper veterinary

care.

"What we are waiting for is the final approval from the MAFF," Phymean

said. "Then we will conduct an operation to close the zoo down."

But the zoo's Phnom Penh-based owner, Seng Chhoeun, said he would fight any potential

closure. He said he had the support of some 300 families who lived next to the facility

who had signed a petition to keep the zoo open. Chhoeun said he had sent a letter

to Chea Sim, the president of the Senate and the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Chhoeun told the Post on April 3 that the zoo was important for attracting tourists,

preserving wild species and educating students about national wildlife. He added

that Angkor Zoo provided jobs to handicapped residents.

But since its opening in 2000, the living conditions of the animals have disturbed

many of the zoo's visitors. On a recent visit, the Post observed wildlife confined

in barren concrete cells and rotting fish floating in murky troughs that served as

the animals' primary water supply.

"The cages are at best hopelessly inadequate, at worst downright cruel,"

said Nick Marx, animal husbandry specialist with NGO WildAid. "As it stands

Angkor Zoo is cruel and squalid. It detracts from the quality of the setting and

demeans the historical World Heritage site in which it is situated."

Marx was part of a combined WildAid and government team that inspected the zoo in

May 2006. The report on the zoo was damning, with Marx drawing particular attention

to the condition of the bear enclosure.

"It's small and barren and there is no enrichment for the skinny bears inside,

one of which has only three legs," Marx reported at the time. "Sadly this

sets the tone for the entire zoo."

Phymean said that the bears WildAid observed have since died, despite the intention

of the WPO to have them removed for treatment. New bears have since taken their place,

but the enclosure remains in the same condition.

The zoo's manager, Peav Hong, admitted that the animals were not fed properly. He

said that on average the zoo spends around $52.50 per day on feed for the more than

500 animals. He said this amount was far too little to feed them all.

"We need to spend roughly $100 to feed them properly," Hong said, "But

we do not get enough money from tourists."

Currently the zoo is housed in a 160-by-138-meter facility.

"I realize that the cages are small," he said. "But because we have

a very small area we need to make narrow cages so we can have many different species."

Hong said to house the current number of animals properly a 500-by-200-meter area

would be required.

The supply of new animals for the Angkor Zoo comes from local wildlife traders -

even though the buying and selling of Cambodian wildlife is against the law.

"If I don't buy those species they will take them to eat," Hong said. "In

order to preserve these wild species, we buy them."

Marx explained that not only was this practice illegal but it supported an industry

that has hunted Cambodian wildlife so heavily that even once plentiful species -

such as the long-tailed macaque - are becoming scarce.

The proposed zoo closure comes too late for two snow leopards, a species that has

been almost wiped out in Cambodia through illegal trade.

Wildlife experts believed the pair could have made an invaluable contribution to

the breeding program at Phnom Tamao, but both died shortly after WildAid reported

that the female at the zoo was very thin and appeared to have skin problems.

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