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PROVIDING DIRECT PROTECTION TO WILDLIFE IN DANGER---Wildlife Alliance trains and equips park rangers to fight crimes against nature including poaching and habitat destruction in Southeast Asia, Russia, and the Western Pacific.
Since Wildlife Alliance, formerly WildAid, first started work in Cambodia we have been campaigning for the closure of Angkor Zoo in Siem Reap. The organization has received much correspondence from visitors to the zoo requesting that we take action. Initially the Cambodian Government did not react. However with the recent change in the law concerning the protection of wildlife, inspections by the Forestry Administration (FA) have taken place. Their reports state that the zoo was in a run down condition and the animals poorly cared for. The zoo owner subsequently received warnings that the zoo would be closed if this did not change.
A further problem for conservationists is the zoo may have been conducting an illegal trade in wildlife. Originally there was a sign wired to the entry gate written in Khmer saying that all kinds of wildlife would be purchased. Angkor Zoo also had an extremely high turn over of animals – for example over a period of 9 months during 2001/2002 an independent survey revealed that a total of 371 animals disappeared. This has slowed down recently, however care is still inappropriate and the food inadequate.
Finally on April 5th 2007 the Ministry of Agriculture Forests and Fisheries (MAFF) decreed the zoo should close. FA offices in Phnom Penh were told on April 12th and Wildlife Alliance was informed on April 24th. The Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) accompanied by Nick Marx immediately left for Siem Reap. Meetings with court officials, local FA officers and police took place to ensure that the operation was conducted in a legal and coordinated manner.
On April 27th, after the prakas had been served on the zoo owner, an inventory of the surviving animals was taken in order that the necessary transport plans and construction at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre (PTWRC) could take place. The most notable absentees from our previous inventory in October 2006 were two pileated gibbons and a leopardess. We knew the latter could not survive her incarceration very much longer. Sadly we arrived a little too late. Survivors looked in better condition than they used to and the whole place was cleaner, indicating that FA warnings had, to some extent, been heeded. However conditions were still substandard – too little too late – and closure was implemented. There are currently a total of 72 mammals, 140 birds and 27 reptiles, which will be removed from the zoo. The crocodiles, approximately 100 in number, we have been told must remain. In the event the operation went smoothly. The number of police and forestry officials, including the WRRT, ensured that there would be no trouble.
It will be several weeks before the last animals are moved. PTWRC cannot accept so many new comers at such short notice. For the first 3 days following the closure all three teams of the WRRT stayed at the zoo to guard against any untoward actions. One team will now remain to assist the keepers until all the animals have gone. For as long as we are on the site we will pay the salaries of the existing staff and of course will fund the animals’ food, which will be increased gradually with the necessary dietary changes slowly incorporated – sudden alterations might not be healthy for them.
It saddens us greatly that the zoo closure came too late to save the pair of clouded leopards and the spotted leopardess that languished in their tiny concrete prisons for several years, their uncomfortable lives ultimately completely pointless. However it is heartening that the Cambodian Government has at last closed down Angkor Zoo, for so long a contradiction to the splendor of the temple ruins that surround it. It is a testament to what can be achieved with persistence and a demonstration of the determination of the government, with our assistance, to preserve what remains of Cambodia’s magnificent wildlife.
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