phnom tamau, Takeo province – O’Rang, the tiny Tamau Zoo elephant who was fitted with an experimental walker last December after she broke her leg, has died, authorities said.
Her trainer said she had never recovered from her injury and that Samnang, the zoo’s other baby elephant, is morose and lost without her.
O’Rang’s death, on April 2, is just one of a series of misfortunes to plague the zoo recently, from animal deaths to arson to a burgeoning population that means short rations for the animals—and no money in the budget for extra food.
But the loss of the baby elephant seemed to hurt the most.
“I feel very sorry for losing O’Rang,” said Soeng Sopheap, 20, who still looked distressed Tuesday over the death.
He had cared for the elephant day and night since her arrival at the zoo in July of last year.
“I loved her so much and I regarded her the way I feel about my own family.” The night she died, he said, “I cried, and it wasn’t just me.”
Others recalled how O’Rang used to follow Soeng Sopheap around like a puppy, and the way she used to twine her trunk around Samnang’s tail as the two trundled around the zoo.
O’Rang was 14 months old when she was rescued from a village in Ratanakkiri, where villagers fed her only bananas, stunting her growth and weakening her bones.
She fractured her femur in a fall last year, lying on her side for 14 days while zoo officials contacted vets from Thailand, Malaysia and India in hopes of curing her. Nhiek Rottanak Pich, the zoo’s chief veterinarian, said she died of a collapsed lung and a stomach punctured by broken bones.
Her skeleton will be preserved for display in the zoo museum, he said.
Nhiek Rottanak Pich said an increase in the zoo population during the last year, from about 600 animals to 800, has meant less food for the inmates because the budget has not increased.
“As more and more wild animals are confiscated [by wildlife officials] the population keeps rising. It makes it difficult to afford enough food,” he said.
Chan Tong Yves, acting Minister of Agriculture, said the ministry is aware of the problem and is seeking several million dollars in international aid to upgrade the zoo in a number of areas.
Meanwhile, donation boxes dot the zoo grounds, asking visitors to donate money to feed the animals.
But zoo employees say so far no animals seem to be suffering from hunger.
Zoo employee Kep Prim, 55, remembers when a big tiger would be fed eight to 10 kg of meat per day. Now, says tiger trainer Sok Sithol, it’s more like five kg for a big tiger, and two kg for a baby.
Kep Prim, who oversees the Minority Village at the zoo, a collection of grass houses built in the style of various ethnic minorities, said times are tough there as well.
He said it was a fired employee who torched one of the ethnic houses several months ago and poisoned one of the tigers. That man is in jail, he said.