The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre
Mission: To protect otters so that future generations can enjoy one of the world’s most charming, elusive and enjoyable mammals.
Species: Smooth-coated, hairy-nosed, Asian short-clawed and Eurasian otter.
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Support started: 2012
Donating: £4,000 towards building a new enclosure for 2 smooth coated otters, as the project wishes to breed a recently rescued male with one of their females. Any youngsters born will then be released into the wild.
Background: Otters are one of the most overlooked, medium sized mammal species in Asia. They are an important ambassador to the health of the environment, using both aquatic and terrestrial environments. Asian otters are under threat through loss of their wetland habitat, loss of their food sources, the pet trade and hunting for their fur.
Pest control and the skin trade are the main drivers for otter hunting causing declines in their numbers. Many otters are seen as pests as they eat the fish caught in fishing nets and they even destroy some nets. Hundreds of otters are also being harvested throughout the region for their fur, as this now demands a high price in the illegal wildlife trade. There is little law enforcement to prevent it, and skins can sell for as much as $200 each. This is a lot of money for family that survive on a few dollars a week. Products are easy to smuggle over boarders through Vietnam, Thailand or Laos due to little boarder control. These products then end up in China which has the biggest markets for these products. In Tibet otter skins form part of the traditional dress, and the Chinese government has made it compulsory to wear these skins for formal occasions and festivals. Occasionally young otters are kept as pets and if they don’t die due to insufficient care, are often kept for their skins.
The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre is considered to be one of the best wildlife sanctuaries in Southeast Asia. The centre covers 80 hectares, but there is additional land reserved for future extension and development. The centre regularly receives rescued wildlife from poachers, markets, restaurants and wildlife traffickers. The centre works to care for these rescued animals, rehabilitate them and release them back into protected areas. However not all can be released and some animals end up living the rest of their lives at the centre. These animals will help contribute to the gene pool in future wildlife rehabilitation programmes, and assist in education of local people drawing attention to the problems otters currently face.
The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre works hard with its education work and this has paid off. The project had a Cambodian fisherman contacted a local community worker, informing them he had found a hairy-nosed otter caught up in his nets. Even though the otter never made it, this was a significant step in the education programme as the fisherman could have easily sold the otter for its fur, but instead contact the local community worker. This co-operation and liaison is essential for the long term success of the project.
The Centre will continue rescuing and receiving otters that need care, rehabilitating them and releasing them back into the wild when possible. The centre will continue to update its facilities to deal with the increasing numbers of otters, and will design and adapt enclosures for each species needs. Education work will continue, with the otters at the centre acting as ambassadors to the local people. Project workers will also continue building relationships with fisherman and locals, to make them more aware of the project.
Picture of baby otter at the centre (c) IOSF
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