About 6 kms outside the rural community of Chi Phat lies one of Cambodia’s newest and most successful wildlife rescue centre’s, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Station (WRS). Opened by Wildlife Alliance in 2008, the centre was developed due to its prime location for wildlife release, the rich forest vegetation of the Cardamom Mountains.
Over the years the centre has successfully released hundreds of rehabilitated animals and birds back into the wild. The animals end up here for many reasons such as illegal trading and trafficking, as not too long ago the region was known for it’s logging and poaching practices. Many people used the animals as a way to make money and sold them on the black market. It was a dark era for the Chi Phat community however due to the recent community based tourism efforts as well as the efforts of Wildlife Alliance and it’s people, the community has evolved and is now working towards the conservation of the animals and their habitat.
In 2014 the Wildlife Rehabilitation Station (WRS) opened its doors to tourism as a way to help fund their programs and continue to help the animals in need. 100% of all money made through tourism goes directly towards the running costs of the release projects, as well as staff salaries, animal care and support towards community patrols that protect the forest and make it a safe site for release.
I was lucky enough to spend a few days at the centre and wanted to share their story with you, as it is still quite unknown to tourists. In fact the last people here before me were here 3 weeks ago and I believe that a wonderful project like this deserves some exposure to the public. You can reach the WRS on a 20 minute Moto Taxi ride out of Chi Phat. The roads are not in good condition so the bike is the only way to reach the station.
The sanctuary is currently looking after 17 animals including 2 hornbills, 2 Sun Bears, a family of Pangolins, some Civets and 2 Binturongs. You can visit the garden where the Myna birds come to feed on Banana and Papaya, you can also get the chance to feed them yourself if you like.
In the afternoon your guides will take you to see Sopheap, the Sun Bear who had been bought here after her leg was caught in a snare from a hunter. Sopheap feeds daily at 7am and 3pm. You’re more likely to catch a glimpse of her rather than of Tela her male companion, as he is quite wary of humans having been traded as a young Bear cub. Sopheap took on the mother role of Tela and the keepers are hoping to release the two of them once they have made a full recovery and are confident that they will not have any more encounters with poachers. For now they live comfortably in a large area of land, which imitates the wild for them.
Your guide will then take you around to meet some of the other animals that come here under such unfortunate circumstances. I meet a beautiful Great Hornbill that had his wings clipped to be sold as a pet on the black market. I took one look at this magnificent creature of the jungle and couldn’t understand what kind of person could ever hurt an animal like this, but there are some things in this world we will never understand.
Late in the afternoon you head over to the Pangolin enclosure to meet a family on Pangolins and watch them feed on a smorgasbord of red ants. The male Pangolin was bought here to recover when his hand had been removed by a snare. Given the nature of his injuries he was unable to be released to the wild at the time so the sanctuary bought him a suitable mate and he now has a little family of his own.
The sanctuary is also home to two cheeky Macaques. Lonely was taken from her mother as a baby to be kept as a pet. She was raised in the sanctuary and then released into the wild however the wild Macaques did not take fancy to her and drew her back into the sanctuary. The keepers decided this would be the safest place for her for now and also bought her a male companion. Now Lonely is due to give birth and you can get a glimpse of her pregnant belly when you visit the enclosure.
After dark your guide will provide you with a headlight and take you to see the creatures that come to life in the night, so you don’t get to miss this experience. Throughout the year many animals will come and leave the sanctuary, which is a clear sign of the great work that they do here to rehabilitate animals and ensure they can eventually return to their natural environment.
The Wildlife Release Station offers 3 comfortable bungalows that each contain 2 double beds. They adopt an eco friendly system whereby all bungalows are solar powered with water filtration from nearby streams. During your stay you will have meals provided in the common area made using locally sourced produce from Chi Phat and surrounding areas, they even have a no plastic bottle policy and provide filtered drinking water for your pleasure. I enjoyed many hearty meals during my stay and got to learn so much about the work that Wildlife Alliance and their partners do to help the animals of Cambodia.
Chi Phat is still a place off the beaten track but with the abundance of the activities on offer, as well as the unique chance to see the animals at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Station, it is certainly well worth the visit.
You can also help Wildlife Alliance continue to assist with the protection of Cambodia’s wildlife by making a donation on their website.