TRAVEL

Phnom Tamao Zoological Park & Wildlife Rescue Centre (Part 1)

No holiday is complete in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia without a visit to Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue Centre. More commonly known as Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, or PTWRC.

Located 45 kilometers away from the southern part of Phnom Pehn, this rescue zoo is still a fairly unknown attraction. You will probably not read about it in travel books. It is even not listed as Huffington Post’s top 15 most memorable things to do in Cambodia. But if you love animals and wildlife, this is a different kind of zoo that you must visit.

The entire area of Phnom Tamao is 6,000 acres. But only 3,000 acres is protected forest area. It is home to over 1,000 different endangered rare wildlife confiscated and rescued from traffickers and poachers’ traps.

All the birds, mammals and reptiles at PTWRC bear their own stories. Some came from abusive backgrounds, some captured illegally and sold for trade, and some were given by locals who could no longer care for their pet.

Before I continue, I must tell you that there are 2 ways to visit this zoo.

The first way is the usual do-it-yourself way. Buy a ticket at the entrance, grab a map or look for a sign post, and follow the arrows. You may even consider hiring a tuk tuk driver for the day to drive you around. Given the land size this zoo covers, it can be quite easy to get lost or miss a whole section. While the zoo has sign posts, bear in mind that it functions more as a wildlife sanctuary, rather than as a commercial zoo. Do not expect to be handed a glossy map with animal cartoon drawings connected by candy-colored snake lines depicting the different stops in a logical manner.

The second way is the best and recommended way. Take the Behind the Scenes Tour of Phnom Tamao, run by Wildlife Alliance This particular tour allows visitors to experience the zoo in a very personal and unique way. You can interact with endangered animals, get up face-to-face with tigers and hand-feed wildlife baby animals. This is the tour I took.

Once we entered the zoo’s main entrance, our van was immediately greeted by 2 adult elephants – Aram and Jamran, who were on their daily walk.

We spent twenty minutes patting them, blowing into their trunk (a way to kiss an elephant) and taking photos. The elephant keepers told me if I blow into an elephant’s trunk, it is a form of greeting. And the elephant will always remember you this way.

Aram (below) was my favorite friendly elephant. He was gentle and quite playful. He liked to sniff feet and left me with a slimy pool of elephant saliva between my toes. He would also curl his trunk and knock it against my arm continuously (as if he has something to tell me). What a darling!

Aram

It wasn’t long until the elephants went for a bath. We were lucky today because it is not everyday that the elephants are in the mood to get wet. I enjoyed watching the elephants walk into their bath pool, roll around and go underwater. Tiny hairs on the top of the elephants heads would stand up when they bathed.

We proceeded to the elephant rehabilitation centre where we met Chhouk, the elephant who lost a leg. Before coming to PTWRC, he was found wandering the forest with a seriously injured leg likely caused by a snare. If left on his own, he would have died. Chhouk was rescued and fitted with a prosthetic leg to help him walk normally again. Today, elephant keepers have to do regular checks on his prosthetic leg to make sure there are no bacteria or signs of infection festering his wound.

Next, we met Lucky, the elephant. Lucky is the resident elephant host. On a good day, Lucky would walk with us side-by-side through the forest. Lucky is also trained to hold a paint brush with his trunk and paint on T-shirts. This experience makes for a great souvenir to bring home. If I have ever seen an elephant smile, it was captured in this photo.

Next, we went to the Tiger den. In 2000, 7 tigers were confiscated in a huge sting operation in Phnom Pehn. It substantiated that tigers are still illegally traded in Cambodia, despite the fact that there are very few wild tigers left. Today, these 7 tigers are housed at PTWRC.

Here is Areang, the handsome and healthy tiger. Areang is son of Dara and Soomie, two of 7 tigers rescued. He is second-generation to PTWRC and hand-raised. He doesn’t like his photo taken and can be quite aggressive with people he is not familiar with. Just look at his eyes.

Next stop: The elusive and endangered clouded leopard. A definite star attraction of the tour! He is a fairly new addition to the zoo and was very shy when he first arrived. Today, he seems to bask in the attention. Look at his big cushy paws!

These clouded leopards are highly endangered. Their population is vulnerable and decreasing at a rapid rate. Due to its distinctive patterned fur (like a snake), these leopards are attractive and highly lucrative hunts for poachers in the illegal trade.

I found this toad by my foot while I was trying to capture photos of the clouded leopard. Looks like I was not the only one looking into the clouded leopard’s cage admiring its beauty.

This is part one of a two-part feature of Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre. Click here to read part two.

Wildlife Alliance is a non-for-profit organization that works with local governments and communities to implement conservation programs in Southeast Asia, Russia, South America and Western Pacific.

Tour cost is a minimum donation of USD150 per person. Run by mainly volunteers and funded by corporate sponsorships, tour proceeds go directly to the rescue and care of the wildlife at PTWRC. The tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, lunch, zoo transport, free T-shirt painting by Lucky the elephant and interaction with the animals and animal keepers.

For more information on Wildlife Alliance and this tour, click here.

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