Elephant in Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre.

© Feimay/Shutterstock

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre

Top choice in Cambodia

The wonderful Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre (phnomtamaozoologicalpark.com) is home to gibbons, sun bears, elephants, tigers, lions, deer, enormous pythons and a massive bird enclosure. The animals were all taken from poachers or abusive owners and receive care and shelter here as part of a sustainable breeding program. Wherever possible, they're released back into the wild once they have recovered.

Occupying a vast site south of the capital, the centre feels like a sustainable zoo crossed with a safari park. Many of the animals have plenty of room to roam in enclosures that have been improved and expanded over the years with help from Wildlife Alliance, Free the Bears and other international wildlife NGOs. However, some animals have rather basic enclosures due to a lack of funding, which may be distressing to some visitors.

The centre operates breeding and release programs for a number of globally threatened species, including pileated gibbons, smooth-coated otters and Siamese crocodiles, and provides a safe home to other iconic species, such as tigers and the gentle giants – Asian elephants. The centre is also home to the world’s largest captive collection of Malayan sun bears, and you'll find a walk-through area with macaques, deer and a huge aviary.

Cambodia’s wildlife is usually very difficult to spot, as larger mammals inhabit remote areas of the country, so Phnom Tamao is the perfect place to discover more about the country's incredible variety of animals. This is not a typical zoo: remember that these animals have been rescued from traffickers and poachers and need a home. Visitors who come here will be doing their own small bit to help in the protection and survival of Cambodia’s varied wildlife.

Wildlife Alliance (wildlifealliance.org) offers a behind-the-scenes tour that includes access to feeding areas and the nursery area. Free the Bears (freethebears.org) has a 'Bear Care Tour,' which allows guests to help out the on-site team for the day. These tours include transport from Phnom Penh. Otherwise, the easiest option is a rental motorbike or car from Phnom Penh in combination with a visit to Tonlé Bati or Phnom Chisor.

In 2022, Phnom Tamao was threatened with closure due to the development of a satellite housing estate, but Wildlife Alliance vigorously campaigned against this and was able to get the decision reversed. The deforestation that had begun for the development was rectified with mass tree planting, and it looks like the future of Phnom Tamao is safe for now.

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