The fate of a 1-year-old wild elephant hangs in the balance as government officials bicker over the legality of handing it over to a private zoo owned by lawmaker Nhim Vanda.
Government wildlife officials said last week that they filed a complaint at a court in Koh Kong province after the CPP parliamentarian requested the return of a baby elephant that was confiscated in July. The elephant is now being sheltered at Phnom Tamao Zoo in Takeo province.
In mid-November, wildlife authorities in Phnom Penh had discussed with a municipal court official the possibility of returning the elephant to Nhim Vanda. But after the municipal court urged the wildlife officials to accept the arrangement, they refused.
“It is quite illegal to hand over an elephant to a private zoo,” said Men Phymen, director of the Forestry Department’s wildlife protection office. Men Phymen, who claimed poachers had killed the elephant’s mother in an attempt to steal the calf, also said private zoos should be banned because they encourage poachers to capture wild animals.
But Pich Han, third deputy governor of Koh Kong province, said the calf had simply lost its way in the jungle before its capture and presentation by provincial authorities to Nhim Vanda.
Nhim Vanda rejected suggestions that he has demanded the return of the elephant. “If [officials] want to give the elephant to me, I will take it,” he said. “If they don’t, that is up to them.”
Nhim Vanda said that 70 percent of the animals in his two private zoos in southern Cambodia were given to him by provincial governors, while only a handful were purchased from villagers. “Why don’t [wildlife officials] confiscate wild animals being smuggled to Thailand and Vietnam for restaurants? My zoo is aimed at protecting threatened wildlife for the next generation.”