Lend me your hand…

This week, as previously blogged, I visited Teuk Chhou Zoo in Kampot where I was stunned at the ability to be so close to such wild animals. Really, really close. The sun bear went for my lens cap, the tiger tickled whiskers so near I felt her warm breath on my face and the orangutang stared and stared before getting up to give me one of his apples.

I had asked beforehand in Kampot how the Zoo was with very worrying responses. People were refusing to visit. I am not a Zoo fan but I am an animal lover and as a photo-journalist I was going to visit no-matter.  Now as surprised as I was with the physical intimacy I could gain with these animals I was also surprised that I was not finding the evidence of all of the bad reviews I had heard.

Invited by zoo owner His Excellency Nhim Vanda, also the Vice President of Cambodia’s National Committee for Disaster Management, Wildlife Alliance have just begun a short-term trial project that looks set to move onto bigger and better things.

Nick Marx, Wildlife Rescue Director at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, tells me, “The staff have had virtually no time off since they started and have done a very good job under quite difficult conditions – the zoo + all cages was like a rubbish dump when we started. We have not been there even 2 months yet and there has been a transformation. A new contract will be drawn up after our first 3 months involvement and I am hoping money will become available to sort out the enclosures – every one needs renewal. Frankly it is not an option to remain at Teuk Chhou if we cannot rebuild the place.”

I am highly impressed with the speed of turn around in the welfare of these animals due to the new collaboration between Senator Nhim Vanda, the charity and particularly with Nick Marx who leads the project. Concerned about some injuries a female macaque received from an over dominant male during my visit I dropped him a line. His almost immediate reply reassured me with honesty and concern that he had already ordered that the monkeys in question would be removed to another enclosure today without question. Now that’s action!

Lending a hand. Communicating and understanding that zoos in developing countries are not run by western conservation and ecology aware organisations as we, and our own wild animals, are privileged to do so and live in. There are paths forward to solving the situation of captive animals like these in developing countries as we must remember from our own experience of awful zoos in the UK in the late ’70’s and ’80’s. Education, support and yes, even visiting an under-performing zoo are all steps that can help.

Get involved. Be aware, when you judge the conditions you may see in other countries without a deeper and broader perspective, that the animals need your support NOW. Tonight. And no placard or petition or boycott will ensure that the beaten macaque will sleep safely on this heavy monsoon rain laden evening. But a visit and a concerned direct email can.

Find out more about Wildlife Alliances work at Teuk Chhou Zoo.

Visit Teuk Chou Zoo ~ If you would like a tour give me a roar!

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