Charles Rollet and Pech Sotheary
The Phnom Penh Post, Mon, 18 January 2016
A wildlife NGO is launching a publicity campaign to get Prime Minister Hun Sen to shut down two zoos in Cambodia accused of keeping their animals in atrocious conditions.
The Hong Kong-based elephant conservation group EARS Asia launched “Zoo Watch” on Thursday in a bid to bring to light the suffering of animals in neglectful Southeast Asian zoos, starting off with the Teuk Chhou zoo in Kampot province and the Prey Veng zoo, both owned by senior ruling party official Nhim Vanda.
Zoo Watch’s website, updated by tourists and visitors to the zoos, features a bevy of photos of malnourished and sick animals living in cramped, squalid accommodations.
“A lot of people have reached out to EARS – sent comments, photos, complaints – about conditions at the zoos,” said Fiona Hardie, a donor to EARS and its welfare director.
“Ultimately, we want the Prime Minister of Cambodia, given that these zoos are owned by a high-level government official, to stage an intervention and stop this.”
EARS Asia managed the upkeep of elephants Kiri and Seila from 2012 to 2015 in the Teuk Chhou zoo, but it was banned last September amid concerns it raised about an animal swap with the Hirakawa Zoo in Japan exchanging the elephants for other animals, possibly including white tigers.
“With EARS’ eviction from the zoo, we felt that there needs to be a highlight of all the other animals and what goes on there,” Hardie said.
One photo on Zoo Watch shows an ostrich that has plucked half of its feathers off at the Teuk Chhou zoo, while another depicts a malnourished porcupine at the Prey Veng zoo resting next to a plastic bottle and a beer can.
A Post visit to Teuk Chhou in August found similar conditions, with no caged animals being provided drinking water and many appearing underweight.
However, the zoos’ owner, Nhim Vanda, denied the animals were being mistreated and said conditions had improved since the photos were taken.
“Now we take good care of those animals,” he said yesterday. “Sometimes many visitors come to visit the zoo, so it has some garbage, so we urge them to clean the garbage at my zoo.”
Vanda said he had “fired” EARS Asia but replaced them with an unspecified “American guy” who ensured that “[we] don’t have the problems Zoo Watch said”.