Statement from Nick Marx, Director of Wildlife Programs
The Forestry Administration has instructed the implementation of elephant shows at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre (PTWRC), which officials feel will be an attraction, encouraging people to visit, in preference to the newly implemented Safari World, which is closer to Phnom Penh. I feel it is important that I explain my reasons for agreeing to this…aside from the fact that Lucky quite enjoys performing – she likes showing off and receives titbits of food for doing so!
Wildlife Alliance is responsible for the total care of all the elephants at PTWRC – food, enclosures, staff salaries, medical care and any extras such as prostheses for Chhouk, our disabled young male elephant. Our elephants are ambassadors for their species here. Lucky, Chhouk, Sakor and Jamran are well known and much loved.
To assist with their care we have trained our elephants using reward-based, positive reinforcement training – they receive small food rewards if they do what we require. All that happens if they do not comply is they do not receive the reward. Our elephants are never beaten or abused in any way.
During the elephant shows Lucky performs some simple actions – she lifts her feet, enabling us to check the soles, she kicks a football, catches a stick. This attracts an audience and enables our head keeper, Try Sitheng, to inform them of the importance of conserving elephants, wildlife and the forests.
Sitheng also delivers a message about our training methods, which differ greatly to those used at other zoos in Cambodia and elsewhere in the region, where beatings and extreme cruelty is used to make elephants and other animals “perform”. These antiquated methods are cruel, unnecessary and outdated.
Developing countries experience different problems to the ones we may be familiar with in our own. We must adapt our approaches and put to our advantage aspects our culture finds less acceptable and which we may prefer not to be involved with. I am happy that Lucky, our much loved and thoroughly spoilt elephant, might assist in disseminating a message of conservation to Cambodian people. I am also glad that she can help in informing her audience that the scars and cruelty experienced by others of her kind in Cambodia and elsewhere are unnecessary, inexcusable and will hopefully soon be a thing of the past.