PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Humanitarian organization Ears Asia has been kicked out of Kampot’s Teuk Chhou Zoo by the owner, Nhim Vanda, amid a campaign by the NGO to prevent the zoo’s two elephants, Kiri and Seila, from being traded to a Japanese zoo.
Mr. Vanda, a government lawmaker and President of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said in August he plans to trade the elephants to Hirakawa Zoo in Japan.
It has been reported he will trade the elephants for two white tigers, or camels and a zebra.
Khmer Times tried to contact Mr. Vanda but he did not respond. The Hong Kong office of Ears Asia launched a #FreeKiriAndSeila campaign to prevent the trade, urging Mr. Vanda to release them into a wildlife sanctuary.
Although the elephants’ caretaker, Louise Richardson, was not involved in the campaign, Mr. Vanda responded by barring her or anyone from Ears Asia from caring for the animals.
Ears Asia has cared for Teuk Chhou’s elephants since 2012, spending an estimated $1,000 a month for their food and the upkeep of their enclosure.
Many of the other animals in the zoo live in cramped enclosures, eating limited food and drinking stagnant water, and Khmer Times reporters saw many showing clear signs of psychological stress in a visit earlier this month.
Until now, the elephants have fared well with a large enclosure, plenty of food, and fresh water.
Ms. Richardson told Khmer Times she worries that the elephants’ health will decline now that Ears Asia is no longer able to care for them.
“I fear the elephants may return to their emaciated state prior to 2012,” she said.
Photos taken by visitors to the zoo in 2011 show the elephants in a state of starvation, their skin hanging loosely from their frames. Mr. Vanda has reportedly said that he needs more funds to provide adequate care to his animals.
In a press release on their Facebook page, Carmel Hubere, director of Ears Asia, said she intends to continue the campaign to free the elephants and house them in a wildlife preserve, despite opposition from the zoo.
“This will not stop us in our campaign to bring to the world the absurdity of the Cambodian and Japanese trade deal,” she said.
Although the trade has been approved by the Cambodian government, Nobuhiro Yamamoto, the general manager of Hirakawa Zoo, said that it may not go forward.
According to Mr. Yamamoto, the Japanese government has not yet given approval for the animal exchange. A team of researchers from Hirakawa came to Teuk Chhou earlier this year, and plan to present their findings on the condition of the zoo.
Mr. Yamamoto said he has no reason to believe Teuk Chhou Zoo is unable to care for new animals, however, and said that Hirakawa Zoo has sufficient facilities to care for the elephants.
The Cambodian government has approved the trade.