Kampot City. Rory and Melita Hunter, an Australian couple and the owners of the Song Saa Private Island in Preah Sihanouk Province, think beyond welcoming international visitors to their stunning resort: they want to give a gift to Cambodians by improving the old Teuk Chhou Zoo of Kampot. I visited the zoo in November 2011 and I was impressed by the poor conditions of the beautiful and endangered animal species. You could feel the stress of the elephants, a tiger, the lions, the eagles caged as though they were canary birds, and chimpanzees exhibited like puppets for the amusement of young Cambodian visitors.
Fortunately I visited the place at the end of that animal nightmare. The zoo, at the foot of the Cambodian southern elephant ranges, attracted the attention of the Hunter couple, an ironic surname for ecology lovers such as them.
Near the zoo we have some water falls and a new dam in the Kampot River that comes down from the Bokor Mountain to provide water and power to the Kampot region.
‘We want to convert the zoo in an educational park to educate Cambodians how to appreciate their own environment,‘ said New Zealander Dr. Wayne McCallum in an interview with Asian Correspondent in early October. Dr. McCallum is the director of sustainability at the Song Saa Private Island and leads the team to stabilize the situation of the animals and the general setting at the zoo with Nick Marx of the Wildlife Alliance.
The zoo is owned by senior official Nhim Vanda, who signed an agreement with Rory and Melita Hunter to set an organization, the Footprints Wildlife and Care Organization, WLCO, to administrate and organize the zoo. ‘Footprints intends to provide leadership in wildlife and environment education to Cambodians, to involve them in conservation of their unique wildlife and ecological environment,’ said Dr. McCallum.
Years of conflict and violence in Cambodia at the end of the 20th century victimized also its animals and jungles, leaving behind nearly empty places like the Elephants Range, where the only two elephants are at the Teauk Chhou Zoo. Currently, there are tensions over the indiscriminate deforestation of ecological sanctuaries along with land disputes. The rescue and improvement of a zoo like this one of Kampot keeps a deep meaning, since it has an educational purpose. ‘Only if we understand, can we care; only if we care, we will help; only if we help, shall they be saved’ is a quote by Jane Goodall that inspires this project.
- Adam Miller (2011). The zoo of horrors. The Phnom Penh Post. March 18, 2011. Link retrieved on 4 November 2012.
- Malcom Holland (2012). We bought a zoo. Australian News. October 6, 2012. Link retrieved on 4 November 2012.