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Cambodia was once home to abundant populations of Asian elephants, tigers, monkeys, crocodiles and exotic birds just to name a few.


Not so much these days.


Many animals have gone extinct or are very close, due to human infringement on natural terrains. Deforestation, poaching, and black markets are some of the threats that daily take their lives. Still. In 2017.


Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center is a conservation for a few, lucky creatures. It is owned by the Cambodian government. Wildlife Alliance manages and cares for the saved animals within it, responsible for all of their own  funding to do so. That might give you a little idea of how things work around here.


Their second largest funding source is day tours offered at $150 per person. Tourists get picked up from Phnom Penh, taken the 30-minutes outside of the city to the center, and given a behind-the-scenes, hands-on interaction tour with the animals.



I was blessed to have the experience. Playing with elephants and holding hands with a monkey were definitely dreams come true. But it also came with heartbreak. Seeing a majestic tiger, the king of the jungle, reduced to sticking his head into a plastic bucket on a string, for a piece of chicken inside, or tripping into a fake pond for some egg yolks floating on a plate as forms of "enrichment," was horrible.

I wasn't sure how to feel. It was awesome being so close to them, but awful to see their fates so clearly. The future of wildlife, it seems, is no longer be wild. Animals will have to be managed by humans, in order to live on, while the remainder of the planet is manicured.



For this blog post about them, I decided to do a Facebook parody. Fangbook introduces some of the incredible creatures I met, while illustrating their increasing dependence on and integration with humans.



Lucky


Occupation Adorable Ambassador of Asian Elephants.


Hometown Jungles of Cambodia


Current City Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center


Relationship It’s complicated. Current crush on Sakor


Likes Long nature walks, chasing cars, batting my long-luscious eyelashes!


About I just want to play and have fun. That’s what I get to do every day since my new home became Phnom Tamao. When I was a baby girl, very mean humans killed my mommy and took me away on a truck. I was very sad and scared. Because the Wildlife Alliance has 14 Cambodian police officers helping them, they were able to find me in the truck and take me to a better home. I am lucky because now I can meet lots of nice humans. It’s easy to get to know me. I will put the tip of my cute trunk by your face where you can blow for me to understand your scent. It’s kind of this super-cool animal thing I do.



Jamram


Occupation Pineapple-Eating Princess


Hometown Near Sihanoukville, Cambodia


Current City Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center


Relationship It’s complicated. Current crush on Sakor


Likes Me-Time: I prefer some of my own space, Satisfying my sweet tooth, Belly rubs!


About I wandered around with my happy herd near the beaches of Sihanoukville. I found some tasty snacks where the humans lived and decided to help myself. I’m a hungry girl! My herd moved on, but I knew the food in the village was much more abundant than the forest food, which was getting less and less because of humans logging. But the villagers did not like me eating their things. They were mean and tried to scare me. They even threw battery acid on my head. Good thing Wildlife Alliance heard about me and were able to take me to a new home, with lots of food, at the Phnom Tameo Wildlife Rescue Center.



Chhouk


Occupation Elephant Blade Runner


Hometown Jungles of Cambodia


Current City Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center


Relationship Single


Likes Dancing, Crushing Coconuts, Hanging out with my adopted sister Lucky


About I’m the elephant candidate for the Paralympics. I have learned to walk, run, play and do anything else with a prosthetic foot. When I was small, my front left foot got stuck in a snare in the forest. My mommy did not want to leave me but no one could help me get out. Finally, my herd had to make a very hard decision and leave me behind. I was all alone and scared, trapped in a painful thing people had put in the jungle. I was finally able to get away on my own, but I lost my foot in the snare. Some animal scientists came into the jungle and I hobbled over to them. It was a good thing they came along! They were able to get me some help. My new foot has helped me grow and play in a healthy way. I have to have it cleaned and changed twice a day, but it is worth it for a second chance.



Sakor


Occupation Elephant Male Model


Hometown Beach Boy from Koh Kong


Current City Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center


Relationship Looking for the right lady


Likes A good balance between quiet time and play time.


About I’m a bit aloof but, being this good looking, I can’t always be in the limelight. A stud needs his space. I’m from the coast. It’s a beautiful part of the country but humans keep cutting down the wonderful trees, plants, and all of the tasty food that comes with it. So I decided to live in the village instead, with the humans and all of their food too. It didn’t go well. No one liked me there and everyone kept trying to push me away. The more I tried to stay the more they wanted me to leave. Finally, I hitched a ride to Phnom Tamao where I get lots of my own space, no pushy people, and plenty of food.



Doonow


Occupation Retired Trade from Illegal Tiger Market


Hometown Captivity


Current City Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center


Relationship Widower


Likes Hunting down the tasty treats hiding in the toys of my den


About I’m a rare breed: a hybrid between Indochine and Bengal tigers. This is a man made anomaly and not from Mother Nature. It means I cannot have cubs of my own, but I am still quite the looker, yes? These days, I’m relaxing in my years of retirement from the illegal tiger trade. Seventeen years ago, I was on my way to a black market, stuck in a people-apartment with 6 other tigers, when some good humans came charging in and took me and my other hybrid tiger friends away. Now I get to chill out in this nice, shaded space at Phnom Tamao. Despite my domestic background, I’ve still got a wild hair, so don’t get too close or my dangerous instincts kick in. Please feast your eyes on my drop-dead gorgeous looks, but don’t touch lest you drop dead so I can feast on you!



Angel & Nugget


Occupation Stay-at-Home Mama Moon Bear & Baby Moon Bear


Hometown Jungles of Cambodia


Current City Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center


Relationship Single Mom


Likes Mama Angel likes to snooze and swing and hammocks. Baby Nugget likes tugging on Mama’s fur, squirming everywhere and pawing at things.


About Rescued from the bear bile trade, I was brought to Phnom Tamao to live with other Moon Bears and Sun Bears saved from mean humans. Many of us are taken away from the beautiful forests and put in tight cages with dirty needles stuck into our bladders. This is to get our bile which is used by humans for traditional Asian medicine. Maybe it helps some humans but it hurts us a lot! Some of us are kept in cages for humans to look at, while we’re babies, and put in crowded, noisy restaurants. The food they give us from the tables makes us very sick. I am happy to be somewhere safe now. Free the Bears put me in a group of other girl bears. We are not supposed to stay with the boy bears, but I’m so darn cute, one of those boys couldn’t help but make his way to our side and get to know me better! Then along came baby Nugget. He is the only baby bear ever born at the Phnom Tamao Center. When you meet him, you might see he has a birth defect and is missing one of his back feet. But he is so good at climbing and squirming and playing, you would never know the difference! I love to play with my baby boy, swing in our hammocks, and cuddle all day long.



The Leng Family


Occupation Fishermen


Hometown Rivers of Cambodia


Current City Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center


Relationship Widower with two sons


Likes Catching fish, Swimming, Squeaking, Picking out a favorite pebble as a toy


About I’m Mr. Leng, a smooth-coated river otter. My mate, Mrs. Leng, and I were rescued by Wildlife Alliance in 2001. We used to live together in the Cambodian rivers where we happily hunted fish, swam around, and slept in a cuddle pile. Humans wanted all the fish for themselves though, and decided to kill us so we couldn’t take any from them. That’s why we had to be rescued. Mrs. Leng and I lived many years together, just the two of us. Then, just when everyone thought we would never have babies, we started digging dens and getting ready for a litter of otter pups. We were so excited when they came. Sadly, Mrs. Leng did not do well having babies, and she died very soon after. I miss her but I have been a very good daddy and teach my sons to hunt and swim and get fish for themselves in the ponds at Phnom Tamao. I am glad they are here because together we all get to sleep in a super-cute cuddle pile.



Reap


Occupation Retired Zoo Exhibit


Hometown Siem Reap, Cambodia


Current City Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center


Relationship In a relationship with Grumpy


Likes Sexy Sweet perfume, Being petted, Playing hide-and-seek


About For a long time I worked as a display in a terrible zoo where the animals were kept in awful conditions. I probably would have been sold into the black market, but I was rescued and taken to live at Phnom Tamao. Since I have spent so much time with humans, I am not afraid of them and know that many of them are nice. I let them give me kitty rubs on my beautiful, spotted coat. One of my favorite humans brings me some of my favorite perfume to smell and rub my fur on. I’m a lovely lady, after all, and know how to act like one. My boyfriend is very shy, but that’s fine with me because I get more attention to myself!



Squirt (unnamed)


Occupation N/A I’m a 2-week-old infant Silver Langur


Hometown Jungles of Cambodia


Current City Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center


Relationship N/A I’m an orphaned infant


Likes I don’t know I just miss my mommy.


About I have had a very scary and confusing first few weeks of life on Earth. I remember being close to my mommy and snuggling next to her warm fur. Then human creatures came and made her disappear. They took me and put me in a cold, empty, small space. They put me, inside the thing, at a loud place with lots of strange smells and noises and other human creatures. Two humans came and took me, after they gave the other humans some colorful, small, flimsy, flat things, and brought me to a weird jungle. They held me but it did not feel like my mom. I cried a lot and was hungry every two hours. The humans took me to more humans at a new place. The new place has more trees and smells more like the place I remember when I was with my mom. I miss her so much. Another baby monkey was put beside me so we would not be so lonely. Still, I cry for my mommy and am always scared. I don’t know what is going to happen.



If you're a traveler, I highly, highly, highly recommend this tour. It's worth twice the price of admission. The experience with the animals are just as priceless as the new perspective you may gain from meeting them. Besides, who knows if you will ever have a chance to see animals like these alive again.

(If you are interested in sponsoring any of these animals you can click here.)

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