Everyone knows about the ruins scattered around Siem Reap, but there’s much more to Angkor than just the famous temples. On the way to the National Park and Kbal Spean (or Banteay Srey) sites, you can also visit Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity, a much better alternative to the popular, infamous elephant riding or crocodile farm.
The reason why it’s so worth seeing is that this place not only offers a great opportunity to see the wild animals of Cambodia up close, it also provides a good chance to get to know something more about them instead of just snapping pictures. While many wildlife encounters in South-East Asia are conducted in a manner that harms the animals just for the sake of tourists having their fun (see: Why you shouldn’t ride elephants in Thailand), this facility isn’t focused solely on profit, but, most of all, on conservation. That doesn’t mean that the tours are boring and preachy – they’re really entertaining and you can listen to your guides and ask questions while walking between the enclosures and watching the animals around you.
How does the tour look like? Can everyone visit the centre?
In order not to stress the animals, there centre runs only two tours a day (9 a.m. & 1 p.m.); both last around two hours and are limited to up to 15 people. You don’t need to sign up beforehand, but you can call them in advance to find out if they’re expecting more visitors. The tour is free of charge, but you’re supposed to leave a small donation at the end of it (a minimum of $3). If you’re traveling with kids, you can easily bring them along with you – the guide will make sure that they also take a lot out of the talks.
During the tour, you’re walked around the centre by a guide who shares a brief overview of the species of all the animals in the facility, as well as their personal stories. You also learn about the conservation of these animals and the illegal trade that brought some of them on the verge of extinction. The person from the centre also explains you what are the main goals of such facility and how it usually operates.
So what happens to the animals from the centre? Is ACCB similar to a zoo?
All animals that end up in ACCB are meant to be released into the wild (using soft techniques, after their full rehabilitation). This can, however, turn out to be impossible in some individual cases, like it happened with one of the monkeys who was taken from his mother at an early age and then completely wrecked by the people who kept him in a tight, small cage for display, depriving him of the chance to socialize or display his natural behaviour. Some animals like this one will never regain their mental health and get fit for survival in the wild. Other animals that are being held in the centre for longer are the ones that belong to nearly extinct species. They are provided with comfortable, enriched enclosures and kept until the centre can find a partner for them to reproduce and prolong the species. This can be a point where a conflict between animal welfare and the conservation of a species occurs and it’s up to you to decide whether the centre deals with it properly.
From what we saw, even though some habitats could have been more enriched, ACCB was doing a great job and, even though they struggle with the lack of money, they still do their best to save all the animals they could, at the same time providing education to all interested.
I want to visit! How do I get there?
Here, on the ACCB website, is a quite clear map of where the centre is located. You can either rent a car (around $25 for a day, from what we’ve heard) or a tuk-tuk (same price for a return trip). If you’re going alone, a map can come in handy. If you have a driver, they’ll know how to get there. When you arrive at the spot, you have to turn left in front of the National Park entrance and walk to the gate where the ACCB logo and an informational note are hanged up. The centre’s representative will arrive there a couple of minutes before the start of the tour and let you inside the enclosure.
You can easily combine this trip with a short excursion to see the park and the temples around it, but only if you have a valid temple pass (same one you use to enter Angkor).
How can I help?
The most impactful ways to help the cantre are simple: donating or spreading the word. If you want to know more details, you can fin them on their official website.