Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Friends with a monkey

The Lonely Planet describes Tamao Wildlife Park as 'Cambodia’s foremost wildlife sanctuary' and while it certainly does house quite a variety of largely rescued wildlife it doesnt immediately scream 'sanctuary'. Things are pretty primative with simple wire fences to keep even the most wild of animals at bay although efforts have been made in the cages to provide shelter and some of the enclosures are huge. The centre is mostly funded by international wildlife NGO's such as Wildlife Alliance and Free the Bears Fund who are trying really hard to change Cambodian's attitude towards animals but old habits die hard and incredibly poor rural Cambodians are easily driven by the lure of a few bucks the trade of wild animals offers and many end up still destined for vivisection clinics in the United States, the medicine bottles of the Chinese, the dinner tables of surrounding countries, the private cages of Asias elite and the appaulling conditions of performing circuses and the like. Most of the animals at the centre have been rescued from poachers, traders, traffickers and private houses in Cambodia. They end up at Tamao because, for one reason or another, they can no longer live in the wild. Its pretty heartbreaking seeing so many.

The park is really too big to walk around so you do a combination walk drive. This huge cage housed some of these guys...

.....although there were plenty outside of the cage too. The park has had some success with breeding too. This is a mother and baby in their nest.

At the first car park a few kids will attach themselves to you offering their expert guiding 'services'. We started off with about five but after the first cage, when the boys realised we werent into buying the coconuts they were teasing the animals with, we were left with this tenacious little girl in red who followed us around on her bike offering advice as to which animals were prone to biting and which we could touch.

Some of the animals seemed happier than others. These otters for example were so busy playing and diving in their little pool they barely noticed their audience.

This guy was alone in his enclosure and soon came over to check us out. He was the most animated I have ever seen a Crocodile especially considering the significant midday heat.

There are three kinds of crocodile, we were informed, the jungle croc, the mekong croc and the mountain croc. The Siamese Crocodile (possibly their 'mountain' crocodile as it is found in the swamps and rivers of the Cardamom mountains) was thought to be extinct, hunted largely to be worn, until recently and although numbers are very small still there are efforts on both the Cambodian and the Thai side of their habitat to breed and preserve them. There are hybrid Siamese too a wild result of mating with the much bigger saltwater croc. I couldnt find a third crocodile in any lists of Cambodias 212 mammal species, 536 bird species, 240 reptile species, 435 marine fish species and 850 different species of freshwater fish.

This is the very shy and rare Slow Loris. The Slow Loris is endangered and so absurdly adorable the Japanese pay large sums to have them as pets. The completely dependent babies are the most prized but smugglers have been known to rip out the teeth of older lorises to make them appear younger. Cambodians use the Slow Loris to make medicines. It takes three smoked lorises to make the dose of loris wine used to help relieve the pain of childbirth. The Cambodian government legally banned the trade of lorises in 2007 but as with most laws in Cambodia enforcement is piecemeal at best and even if poachers do get caught bribe money can usually be exchanged for free passage over the boarder.

There is a sizable population of sunbears at the park due to the huge trade of these gorgeous creatures. Cambodia's wild Sunbears and Asiatic, or Moon, bears enjoyed relative safety for much of the last few decades as security concerns meant sizable areas of forest were no go zones. The forests now cleared of militants and mostly cleared of mines have again become collection grounds for the illegal wildlife trade.

At Tamao 'Free the Bears' has built an education centre similar to those seen at zoos around the world. There are posters and a lot of information in both english and Khmer about the bears and the dispicable trade in them. Free the Bears Fund has been working with the Cambodian Forestry Administration since 1997 and has been instrumental in the creation of the sanctuary, teaching and educating Cambodians as well as in the rescue of the bears themselves.

The much bigger Asiatic bear is caught and kept as a live reservoir for bile which is used in many traditional Chinese medicines. It is believed that more than 10,000 bears in China and 4,000 in Vietnam are kept in inhumane conditions at bear farms.

While the conditions for the bears are definately much better than the ones they were destined for when they were rescued it still hurt to see them being teased by the local coconut boys who for a dollar throw a coconut over the fence into the bear cage causing fighting and growling and all in front of signs that read in both english and khmer 'do not feed'.

The centre also provides sanctuary for elephants rescued from a life of street performance. Like the other animals they have a huge enclosure.

Interestingly they perform here too. They dance and sway to the sounds of the makarena and when they have finished put their trunks out for donations.

This baby elephant, Chhouk, probably lost his foot in a poachers snare. He was an orphan when found and in a terrible state both physically and emotionally; boney, sick and refusing to be touched. He was bought to Tamao and nursed back to a healthy happy elephant who seems to enjoy the company of not only his keepers but also of the crowd of visitors.

These monks are watching one of the parks tigers pace the fence. This is the closest I think I have ever been to a wild tiger, only a simple wire fence between me and him. He was awesome.

The tigers at Tamao have been rescued at such a young age that they never got a chance to learn necessary survival skills from their mothers and therefore can not be rereleased into the wild. They are often in terrible condition when they arrive at the park and have to be nursed back to health. Many of the tigers have been adopted by donors who help to fund their care.

For any Aussies reading this, one was adopted by Belinda and Rove McManus. Rove and Tasma still come to Cambodia and even have a couple of sun bear cubs named after them.

Who really stole my heart (and I dare say M's too) was this gibbon. As soon as she 'saw' us, through cataract eyes, she put her mangled hand through the bars. After an introductory hand holding session she was ready to move onto head scratching moving my hand herself to the top of her head.

She is part of a breeding pair who successfully produced offspring in 2007. This is no mean feat since many of the gibbons were orphans and have very little if any experience of being parented themselves.
Her partner wasnt as cuddly as she was. He sat close looking like he wanted to be a part of the action but just couldnt bring himself to get close enough to touch. When he finally put a hand on the wire dad touched him gently. He lept back a few steps but almost immediately returned to the fence and purposefully put his hand back. Gentle stroking was all he'd permit but like a jealous child gave M's hair a quick tug while M was scratching the females head.

While the park is listed in guide books not many tourists make it to Tamao, down the dusty driveway lined with elderly beggars, which is a shame because they are trying so hard to do the right thing and deserve our support.

1 comment:

Connie said...

I have to say that I avoid most zoos religiously as they generally leave me feeling very sad for the animals. It's seems that this sanctuary is doing the best they can and should be supported - too bad they cannot keep those who tease the animals away, but I understand limited resources. Great photos! I loved the gibbons... and I am not a fan of primates, those are just too sweet though.