I am starting this blog post in an extremely frustrated and unmotivated state. I previously wrote a post about our time at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center (PTWRC) in Cambodia. Somehow, the draft got deleted after I spent around 3 hours researching and writing the post.
I debated if I even wanted to rewrite it in the first place, but I knew deep down that I should. I’m sure the next year will hold many setbacks that leave us feeling deflated, but it doesn’t mean we should just give up. This travel adventure has an element to it that will surely push our limits both physically and mentally. Blogging just happens to be the current challenge. Who woulda thunk it?!
So, Here Goes:
My Dream: Shattered by Enlightenment
Riding an elephant had long been on my bucket list since I first starting dreaming of trips to Asia. Because I thought that nothing would make a more stellar profile pic than me on the back of an elephant in an exotic jungle. Ya’ll this was so ignorant of me. This was before I did any research on how to ethically engage with elephants.
In today’s age of technology, ignorance is no longer an excuse for bad tourist behavior. We have an instant access to information and a quick google search about elephant rides will quickly enlighten those willing to read on. The training process that the elephant must go through is both painful and inhumane. Healthy elephants belong in the wild, not in the tourism trade.
Fortunately, there are still ways to interact with the wildlife safely and humanely in SE Asia. There are many sanctuaries through the region that offer tours and interactions that do not include riding. Many retired elephants live out the rest of their lives in sanctuaries that you can visit. These is a way to safely and humanely spend some time with the gentle giants.
Enter Phnom Tamao
We weren’t too impressed by Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh (more on that to come one day). The shining star of our time in Phnom Penh was definitely our day spent at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. This is a place dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of animals. Many of the animals at the center have been rescued from the pet, tourist, or illegal wildlife trade.
We opted to do the behind the scenes tour in order to spend the day fully engaged in the center. Phnom Tamao also doubles as a zoo, but I wouldn’t recommend visiting without a guide as everything is written in Khmer and it is a ways outside of the city. Also, you will encounter lots of begging and really sad, hungry children. This is all a part of being in Cambodia. The tour was not cheap, especially by Cambodian standards. But we felt it was totally worth it since the center operates off of donations. We thought of it as our small contribution to help combat the exploitation of animals that is such a huge problem in this region of the world.
We were absolutely horrified after hearing some of the stories of the animal’s past lives. While the center’s primary goal is always release, many times this is not possible. This is often due to the physical and physiological damage the animals have suffered in their previous lives. Some of the animals have been around humans for far too long and would not be able to defend themselves or survive in their natural habitat. Thankfully, centers such as this one do their best with the resources they have to make each animal’s experience a positive one.
Our tour of PTWRC was just wonderful. We were in a small group– it was only Robert and I and two others. We were picked up in Phnom Penh and transported in a comfortable van with a/c. On the way we stopped by the market to get some goodies for the monkeys that we would be meeting later. Lunch was included, as were lots of hammocks for an afternoon nap 😉
Our Favorite Animals
Lucky is a young, fun-loving “life of the party” kind of gal. Having been rescued from the tourist trade as a young elephant, she has always been around the trainers and support staff at Phnom Tamao. Lucky has formed a special bond with her mahout, and through positive reinforcement she was able to be trained to do all sorts of tricks! She is most most notably known for her ability to paint your T-shirt. Sadly, she was feeling a little under the weather and suffering from a virus when we got to visit so we weren’t able to witness all of her cool tricks. We did get to take her on a long walk, which she loved.
As a child, Chhouk fell victim to an animal snare. His foot was trapped and resulted in an amputation. Scientists and engineers worked together to create a prosthetic foot for him. It is made out of the same material as tires… how clever. His prosthetic is the first one ever in Cambodia, and there are only a handful of them in the world. On our tour we were able to watch one of the twice-daily prosthetic changes. Chhouk doesn’t mind the changes as long as he is constantly being given treats!
This precious little lady is a gibbon who rescued from the pet trade. She has spent her entire life around humans and consequently cannot be released back into her natural habitat. She spends her days getting lots of back rubs from her visitors. She is so sweet and loves attention. If you try to walk away from her, she will stick out her arm or leg for you to rub… who could walk away from that?! She has the sweetest face and demeanor… she definitely won us over!
The family of macaques
Well, these boys were an overly energetic bunch. We were able to enter the pen with them and ‘play’. And by play, I mean we were basically human jungle gyms and monkey bars for this raucous bunch. They crawled, jumped, swang, and invaded our personal space for as long as you let them. I couldn’t wear a hair tie in my hair because yeah, they thought it was a new toy and would rip it out. The boys could be sweet, but mostly they were just playful. Robert enjoyed it, I thought it was…. interesting.
Some More Pictures….
No personal space! ^^
Overall, we had a fantastic day touring and meeting our new friends at PTWRC. It was our favorite day in Cambodia and we would love to return one day. Until then, we enjoy keeping up with them on their Facebook page.