Cambodia Day 3: Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center

When we asked the kids before we left what they wanted to do in Cambodia, they said, “Not spend all our time looking at old buildings.”


Day 3 was an all-day, guided, behind-the-scenes tour of Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, about 25 miles outside Phnom Penh. It’s about 6000 acres full of rescued animals, rescued from the pet trade, the tourist trade, and all sorts of other various horrible things that people do to animals. It’s owned by the Cambodian Government, and operated by a nonprofit called The Wildlife Alliance.

Ian feeding Lucky the Elephant

Lucky was rescued from the back of a truck as a baby about 16 years ago, and has been at the wildlife rescue center ever since. She would likely have ended up in the tourist trade. It was truly magical to stand right next to an elephant that is completely tame, and feed her slices of watermelon. Lucky was out for a walk with her keeper.

The next elephant we saw was Lotus, who was missing the end of his foot due to a forest snare set for bush meat. A prosthetics company built him a prosthetic foot, and the keepers showed us how they trained him to put his foot into a special enclosure so they can take off the prosthetic, clean it, and put it back on. With baby powder. It helps it not chafe.

Lotus the Elephant with his prosthetic foot
Lotus stands in his special enclosure and puts his foot in just the right place to have his prosthetic taken off and cleaned every day. He gets lots of treats every day.

Next we saw the most amazing female gibbon (whose name I’ve forgotten). She was rescued from a restaurant where she was being kept as a pet. Sadly, she can’t be released into the wild as she’s too bonded with humans and thinks she’s a human. They’ve tried putting her in with other gibbons, and she’s terrified. So she gets plenty of pats and attention from humans. We got to scratch her through her cage, and she kept putting her foot out so we could hold it. It was truly lovely.

Did I mention that Allen is a terrific photographer?

And here she is again, wanting to hold hands with anyone who would talk softly to her.

She was the most gentle creature. Sadly, there’s no fur on this foot because she was held for many years by a rope and has scar tissue were no fur will grow.

I could go on and on. Really. So many incredible animals, rescued from horrible lives — bears trapped as cubs and headed for China to a bear bile farm, six tigers rescued as cubs but they couldn’t be released into the wild as they’re hybrids of Indian and Southeast Asian tigers, civets forced to eat nothing but coffee cherries for people who (seriously) pay top dollar for coffee beans that have been eaten and pooped out by a civet. (Civets are little weasel-like creatures).

One of the rescued leapards. Yes it helps to have a fabulous photographer for a husband.

But I’ll end on another amazing note. Macaque monkey babies. These monkeys were rescued as babies, nursed to health, and are in an enclosure where they have a troop hierarchy. When they’re four years old or so, they will be released into the wild. For now, as essentially the age of school kids, they can be fed by humans. Which is where we came in. Our group had to take off glasses and earrings, leave all bags outside, and we got to go in and feed the macaques.

Allen found a friend
Ian found two friends
I have a friend too. They stuff their pouches full of lychee fruits and come back for more before they eat anything.

It was a day we’ll never forget.

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