On Sunday 16th of February 36 volunteers, predominantly young Khmer students, from Volunteer Nation gave up their Sunday to help us at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center with our first ever rubbish clean up. Rubbish/litter is a constant battle at Phnom Tamao. With minimal grounds crew, an open landfill, high levels of plastic consumption and wild animals to contend with we have been looking into solutions for a number of years. In early 2019 we met with Jamie from The Idea to brainstorm the event and sort out logistics. Whilst a one-off cleanup is not a permanent solution, a great day was had by all! We focused the clean-up on a fenced walk through an area filled with free-roaming sambar deer, red muntjac, macaques, and a variety of water birds. This enabled us to clean up a section where animals are at higher risk of consuming plastic while giving the volunteers a chance to get up close and personal with some resident wildlife at Phnom Tamao. The volunteers and team were quick to make their way through this section and after a brief hydration stop, we made our way towards a natural lake at the front entrance. This is a common picnic area for guests and as the water level is receding as we continue into the dry season there is much plastic to be found. This time of year also means it wasn’t long before it was too hot to be out in the exposed sun and we called it a day.
Leading by example is a great way to influence behavior change and we’re hopeful that guests visiting Phnom Tamao that day were impressed by the enthusiasm of all the volunteers, both Khmer and foreign, who were out collecting rubbish. Straws were by far the most common item encountered and one that is easily reduced – as in most cases they are not required to consume your beverage. Environmental education is key to reducing plastic consumption across the globe, and we’re seeing inroads being made in Cambodia. With green movements, national curriculum discussions, and changes to the current waste management practices in the country, we’re hopeful this is all leading to many good things to come. For the volunteers, as a thank-you for their efforts we conducted a brief tour to meet Lucky, our ambassador elephant, Chhouk, our young bull with a prosthetic foot, and a quick visit to the tigers before hopping on the bus back to Phnom Penh. We cannot thank the volunteers at Volunteer Nation enough for giving up their Sunday to spend the day with us and look forward to this becoming a regular event at Phnom Tamao!