Soma Norodom's Blog


A Day with the Endangered Species of Cambodia
April 12, 2013, 6:34 pm
Filed under: Soma Norodom
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Soma with Chhouk, one of 300 Asian elephants remaining in Cambodia, with Sethang, head keeper for Wildlife Alliance, at Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue Center.

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Soma with Charlie, a baby macaque rescued by Khouri in 2012, now at his new home at Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue Center.

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Yulia Khouri and Darren Harris, with their dogs, at the new enclosure for the baby macaques, at Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue Center.

In Cambodia,  people work an average of six days a week, and Sunday is a day of rest, spending it with family and friends. For Yulia Khouri, CEO of Innov8 International Group, and Partner, Darren Harris, spending every Sunday with the endangered species in Cambodia is their regular family outing.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend time with them at Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue Center. With bags of lettuce, peanuts, mangoes, dragonfruit and corn, we were ready for a day with the baby macaques – the most sought after species by poachers – and the Asian elephants, the most popular animal in the park.

Entering the wildlife centre, about a 45 minute drive from Phnom Penh, our first stop was to visit Charlie, a baby macaque rescued by Khouri in January last year. “Macaques are not widely recognized as endangered. But many conservation groups around the world recognize that if the illegal hunting and trafficking of the animal does not stop, they will be officially endangered in five to 10 years,” Khouri said.

She is passionate about the issue and has assisted in fundraising events to help raise money for the conservation group Wildlife Alliance’s projects. Her company, along with other sponsors, helped raised $3,000 to build the enclosure for Charlie through a fundraiser in October last year, Rumble in the Jungle. She said it would be held annually to support orphaned baby primates with food, enclosures and maintenance.

“Human development and progress, in any part of the world, often means complete extermination or massive displacement of native wildlife. Often we lose the whole groups and species as a result. The Cambodian Forestry Administration has been fundamental in supporting the work and efforts of Wildlife Alliance in the rescue centre,” Khouri said.

An upcoming fundraiser, Glamazon 2.0, will be held on May 2 at NagaWorld in Phnom Penh to raise money for an Asian elephant conservation centre at Phnom Tamao.

Glamazon 2.0, a glittery, spectacular arts and style exhibition, was created by the team at popular hair salon The Dollhouse and by Innov8 Events (part of Khouri’s company). The organizers promise it will be grander than last year’s event, with catwalk shows, drag performances and dancers.

At Phnom Tamao, we also visited the Asian elephants. A special one, named Chhouk, was crippled by a poacher’s trap but now can walk thanks to a large prosthetic left front foot.

Sethang, head zookeeper for the Wildlife Alliance, reminisced: “As a little boy, I always loved elephants, and I considered them as a part of my family. Since 1999, I have taken care of elephants; feeding, cleaning, walking and enjoying being around them.”

I watched Sethang and his assistant take the boot off Chhouk and clean his foot.

“The trunk of an elephant has many functions like smelling, breathing, drinking and grabbing small items”, said Sethang.

“Many elephants are killed for their tusks because their ivory is a valuable source for poachers. The Asian elephant conservation centre will educate visitors about the conservation work and the protection of the elephants by Wildlife Alliance,” he said.

It was a great experience, meeting some of the staff members of Wildlife Alliance, and hanging out with the animals. Thanks to the team from Wildlife Alliance, their tireless commitment and dedication to conservation and protection of the endangered species, and to my friends, Yulia and Darren, for continuously fighting for this worthy cause.

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