Not a big fan of Zoos generally, I’ve lived across the road from Perth Zoo in Western Australia for 30 years and never visited it once. But I was staying in Phnom Penh for 2 months doing a little work and my regular Tuk-Tuk guy recommended I visit the ZOOM! I really didn’t want to go, but had a free day and we took the drivers 10 year old brother along because he’d never seen a ‘Zoom’ before, and I was more interested to see his reaction.
The ‘star’ of the rescue center is definitely the Asiatic Sun Bear which has been hunted for food and its bile for generations, and the rescued population here has the biggest and best enclosures for both the animals themselves and for the visitors’ optimal viewing. It would appear the bulk of the $5 entry fee for foreigners goes to this particular project. But on the Sunday I travelled out to the center I saw only 4 other foreigners all day, which is a pity, because for me at least, the trip out there was worth it just for the sun bears.
All the other exhibits were fairly typical of what I’ve seen in other Asian countries and on the Sub Continent. People feeding potato chips and other snacks to the animals, teasing them, throwing rubbish into the enclosures, poking and pulling at them when they could reach . . . no respect, and no brains. I saw one parent encouraging her young daughter to poke her finger into the python cage so she could take a photo while the animal was climbing the wire. The saddest thing though was the ‘dancing’ elephant, like the soccer playing elephants in Thailand and the painting elephants in India I just cringe with embarrassment for the poor beasts.
But having said all that, the good people of Phnom Penh of course don’t have the luxury of a San Diego, Taronga Park or Basel Zoo for their education and entertainment, and I’m sure the governments’ priorities lie elsewhere so if all the animals and birds at Phnom Tamao have truly been rescued from poachers, collectors and hunters, being humiliated daily and fed a regular diet of junk food is probably the lesser of two evils.
This would have been a comforting thought no doubt, for one particular women after a giant python swallowed her kids finger.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
October 13, 2013
Thank you for your review Brian, we appreciate you taking the time to provide detailed feedback.
Report response as inappropriate
By way of background, the park was started in 1995 by the Cambodian Forestry Administration and has been supported by registered NGO Wildlife Alliance since 2001. Almost all of the animals have been rescued in Cambodia from the illegal wildlife trade. The park is a rescue and rehabilitation centre first and foremost and doubles as a zoo. This means the animals come first rather than aesthetics for the visitors! Their enclosures are often set within the regenerated forest and rather than surround them with viewing platforms, we prefer to give them as natural view as possible.
The centre is also part of a larger body of work being carried out by Wildlife Alliance, which includes a dedicated wildlife rescue team and release site for those animals healthy enough. The animals would likely be dead without the care provided at the centre. More information about this holistic approach is available on the Wildlife Alliance website.
Several other NGOs support only specific animals at Phnom Tamao, such as Free the Bears which cares for the Malaysian Sun bears and Asiatic Black bears. They do amazing work and Phnom Tamao is their largest rescue centre. Their educational information is fantastic and it is something we are currently working on for all the enclosures. We are also looking to create conservation centres in an effort to change attitudes towards animals.
These improvements are being funded by a new behind-the-scenes interactive tour run by Wildlife Alliance, with 100% of the profits going directly back to the rescue and care of the animals!
Taking this tour will also allow you to see first hand how we train our elephants using positive reinforcement. This method means they receive a treat (fruit or turnips) when they follow an instruction, and nothing happens when they do not. There is absolutely no abuse. Lucky has been trained to dance using this method and seems to really enjoy doing it, rattling the door to her enclosure if the keepers are running late! Her mahout (also the center's head keeper) has raised her since she came to us as a 6-month-old orphan, providing constant care, comfort and reassurance. They have had a loving relationship ever since and are quite inseparable! This method also allows us to care for Chhouk, a young male elephant who we suspect lost one of his front feet to a snare and is now able to walk thanks to a prosthetic foot.
We agree there is a lot of work required to change peoples' attitudes towards animals in Asia. There are barriers around enclosures like the snakes, but as you noticed they are largely ignored! These are things we hope to work on now with additional funding coming in.
If you have further feedback or any questions, you are welcome to contact us at the email listed above for this page. I hope you can join our behind the scenes tour or visit in the next 12 months to see the changes!
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.