Hello from Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre!
One of the great things about travelling with younger children is that we travel slower, allowing more time in each place we visit. In Phnom Penh that meant we had time to escape the frenetic pace of the city and spend a day in the county at Phnom Tamao. Though it is high season here now, we didn’t see more than 20-30 other people there all day – it was a lovely escape!
We had such a wonderful time visiting animals who have been rescued from the illegal trade market as well as animals who were once private pets (like Pythons!) but needed a new place to live. We saw, fed and were awed by rare Cambodian Deer roaming free, Bengal Tigers, Leopards, Elephants and Otters (all definitely not roaming free!) and many more, including over 400 monkeys!
Our children are animal mad and have started their own “Animal Saving Club” so what better experience for them to visit an actual Animal Saving Club?! Phnom Tamao Wildlife Centre is run by the Cambodian Government and the Wildlife Alliance so though the facilities are weathered, the intention is good.
Having done our reading we decided to visit with Betelnut Tours, they would take us around the (massive) park and share the history of the animals with us. As with most of the places we’ve visited so far in Cambodia, the information plates/signs on each enclosure were remarkably lacking in information. Mostly were simply signed with the type of animal being housed. Given that some of these animals we’d never heard of before, let along seen um, yeah, more information please!
Going with Betelnut meant we were able to learn more about the history of each specific animal as well as bit about the species as well (though the guides are not animal experts). We were really glad we’d opted to take a tour as the park is massive and we wouldn’t have really know what we were doing without one. We also enjoyed this absolutely delicious lunch and chill time on hammocks in the middle of the day – a great refuge from the hot sun!
Betelnut have a longstanding relationship with the park which meant we were able to feed some animals that others were not, like the Otters, and also went behind the scenes at the Lion enclosure which was incredible – they definitely saw us, and in particular our two young boys, as food! We were glad that though we were less than a meter away from them, there were two barriers between us! (You can also do a tour with the Wildlife Alliance who run the park however it’s US$150 per adult and US$30 – US$75 per child. You can do the maths and see why as a family of 5 we chose a different tour!) Our middle son also had the INCREDIBLE experience of feeding a Leopard (through the enclosure of course!)
The enclosures are pretty basic and you will see a lot of wire fences in the photos but as we were told, there are limited funds and they get spent on the animals themselves rather than on improving the park facilities. Though we did see this….
One of the most remarkable stories we heard was of one of their elephants, Chhouk. He was rescued from poachers at age 2 however lost a leg to a trap. He was fitted with a prosthetic leg, only the second elephant in the world to receive one(!) and requires a new one every 6 months. Funding goes to this sort of care rather than a park upgrade. I will say that they could increase their prices (currently US$5 per adult and US$2 per child) to help with funding! It’s also a shame this place hasn’t made it onto the tourist route as more visitors would also undoubtedly help improve the facilities.
The kids were BESIDE themselves when we got there. There were monkeys everywhere and we bought nuts and bananas to feed the animals as we went and I honestly thought the children might pass out from the excitement of it all. Sam, our tour guide, was absolutely wonderful with the children who all hugged her like crazy maniacs when it was time to say goodbye!
It was amazing to be able to get so close to such marvelous beings…
The kids rated today as highly as they did the temples, which is saying something! And it is so wonderful to watch the children engage so thoroughly with this wild, varied country we are visiting.