“Cheeky Monkey”, this term is very apt for the little rascals that greet us at Phnom Tamao. They watch with big eyes as we buy bags of bananas and tiny sweet potatoes and then their pleading looks really slip into overdrive. We happily oblige before our guide nicely reminds us we have lots more animals to come!
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre is the biggest rescue centre in Cambodia and is an hours drive from Phnom Penn. Here the Wildlife Alliance cares for and rehabilitates animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Our guide for the day is Aram, a Dutchman, who along with his Cambodian wife run Betelnut Tours. We chose them over many others because they have over 12 years experience and know the animals very well. Aram knows which gibbons like a back rub and which will bite, he calls the elephants over by name and he fills us in on the often heartbreaking stories that brought these animals to the centre. This is the sort of first hand knowledge that we want.
I love the fact that we can feed many of the animals. That is if a cheeky monkey doesn’t pinch it first! The monkeys and wild boars roam freely around the park which is huge, another good reason to have a guide. We feed the otters some fish via tongs which is great fun, under the watchful eye of their keeper. She keeps a tally of how much they have been fed so they aren’t over fed.
What surprises me the most is how many of these animals were actually kept as pets. A monkey or gibbon I can sort of understand but an otter? It is these ex-pets and injured animals that make up the 1,200 permanent residents here at Phnom Tamao which we see today and can spoilt with bananas and sweet potatoes. What we don’t see are the success stories, over 4,000 animals are saved and released back into the wild each year.
Tips for visiting Phnom Tamao
Whilst it is possible to get a tuk tuk there we would not recommend it. Firstly because it is a good hours drive from Phnom Penn and to have the driver wait for you will start getting expensive. Secondly, the park is huge and the signage is not great so you wouldn’t know where to go. And of course you would not know all the stories of the animals there.
We would thoroughly recommend going with Betelnut Tours. Whilst they are not the cheapest at US$40pp they include entrance fees, water, lunch, a gift of a locally woven scarf and an experienced English speaking guide. Listening to Aram’s stories about the animals was one of the best bits!
Wear good walking shoes, sunscreen, insect repellant and a hat. Dress for comfort! and don’t forget to have your camera charged up and ready to go.