The Agriculture Ministry yesterday defended the treatment of animals within the Phnom Tamao Zoo after social media users shared images of malnourished animals on Facebook and criticised its management of wildlife.
The zoo, formally named the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, is situated on 2,000 hectares of land in Takeo province’s Bati district. Annually, it takes in thousands of animals rescued from the wild.
Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon yesterday told Khmer Times that in the past few days, social media users criticised the management of the zoo after images of malnourished animals were widely shared on Facebook.
Mr Sakhon said the animals in the images were not malnourished, but they were undergoing veterinary treatment because they were either sick or recently rescued from illegally set up traps in their habitat.
He said the zoo is also a wildlife rescue centre for animals. Mr Sakhon said veterinary officials regularly cooperate with partner organisations such as Wildlife Alliance, Fauna and Flora International and Free the Bears.
He said the animals in the images were handed to the ministry’s Forestry Administration and its partners for veterinary care.
“Social media users, please don’t be too concerned because the zoo does not only feed the animals, but it also rescues sick and injured wildlife,” Mr Sakhon said. “Once some of those animals have recovered, we release them back into the forests.”
Mr Sakhon noted the ministry will not take action against the social media users because it was their right to express an opinion, but he said the users should have conducted a thorough study in advance before posting a criticism.
Nhek Rattanak Pich, director of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, yesterday backed Mr Sakhon’s response to online criticism.
Mr Rattanak Pich said the staffers at the rescue centre are obligated to provide care for sick and injured animals.
“Animals with good physical fitness are sent back into the forests by our working team,” he said. “Animals that are vulnerable and cannot find food on their own to survive are kept and receive continuous care.”
“Animals that are old and skinny continually get taken care,” Mr Rattanak Pich added, noting that the zoo spent about $490,000 from the government and the zoo’s partner organisations.
According to a report by the ministry, last year the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre took in 1,893 new animals, treated 257, rehabilitated 1,586 and released 1,484.