On our way to Kbal Spean we stopped at the Angkor Centre for Conservation and Biodiversity
The primary focus of ACCB was rescue, rehabilitation, and release of endangered wild animals. These animals were once pets, captured for the pet trade, or injured. We got to see many animals under their care. There were Gibbons, Langurs, Giant Ibis, Greater and Lesser Adjutants, a Grey headed eagle, a Green Peafowl, Brown Kites, Alexandriane Parakeets, an otter, a porcupine, macaques, and several species of endangered tortoises.
The animals were in sizable cages or pens with enrichment activities. As we passed by each one we learned how they came to be in the rescue center and their future. Quite a few were scheduled for release, however some had become to habituated to humans or were unable to find food on their own.
The ACCB also works internationally with breeding programs to assist in the genetic diversity of species. Recently, one of the endangered tortoises laid eggs that turned into 79 baby tortoises. I counted 10 birds and 90 tortoises that were being prepared to be released into the wild all of which are listed as endangered.
Not all releases go well. They have tried to release the gray headed eagle on several occasions. Sometimes it attacked the keepers, on another occasion, it would not leave the area attacking tourists nearby. When they do release animals, they equip them with GPS tracking. They are not the only group rewilding animals. In the past few years, Wildlife Alliance has been releasing wildlife back into the forests of Angkor Wat (Click Here) . We didn’t get to see them, but we heard the Gibbons calling near Ta Nei.
Another aspect of the ACCB was education. School groups and community members through their center to raise awareness of the plight Cambodian wildlife. According to our tour guide the program is working locally. “However we have the big problem of habitat loss, in Kulen National Park, they still cut the trees down….even though the younger people want to save the animals.” Echoing her concern, as we drove down from the mountain we saw ox cart after ox cart of freshly timbered wood from the forest.
Larger problems work against the wildlife in Cambodia. Cambodia, once a rich country has been ravaged by centuries of war, colonial exploitation, and most recently the loss of a third of its population in the late 70s. They need money. Money has been flowing into Cambodia from numerous NGOs (54 according to this site in Siem Reap alone). Prices are high in certain areas as they rely on tourism to supplement their income. However, money is also flowing in from multinationals from China that are getting the better part of the deal (Click Here). For example, some companies buy up land to harvest the timber for export. This is happening at a rate faster than the forest can replenish.
We ended the tour in a classroom where our guide discussed the many reasons why people harvest these animals. Many animals and their parts are believed to have medicinal value.
We got to see and touch some confiscated items such as the hide of a pangolin, the feathers of a green peafowl, and snakes put into wine bottles. She showed us a picture of a pangolin hide, snake, porcupine stomach, and a few other animal parts, soaking in a bucket to add to rice wine. This rice wine supposedly has medicinal properties. It was staggering what people believe to be true.
Some animals were sought as pets. At the ACCB, a lone river otter barked continuously looking for friends. “Someone bought it in a market as a pup, then didn’t want it any more. It spends its day trying to befriend the porcupine next door and barking for friends.” Kylie spent the next 15 minutes saying: “I’ll be its friend.” And therein lies the problem. Wild animals need to stay wild, yet they look so darn cuddly that we just cannot seem to help ourselves.