Safari World to Move to Phnom Penh Next Year

Koh Kong Safari World, a curiosity wildlife park owned by tycoon and CPP senator Ly Yong Phat that hosts crocodile shows and orangutan boxing matches, will pack up in October and bring its spectacle to Phnom Penh early next year, according to an administrator.

Safari World opened more than 20 years ago—just a few kilometers from the Cham Yeam Border Checkpoint, with a casino and apartment complex on site—but the main attraction is the daily orangutan pantomime, during which visitors can see some of the world’s most endangered creatures battle it out.

A trainer at Koh Kong Safari World places his hand inside the mouth of a crocodile in 2009. (Creative Commons)
A trainer at Koh Kong Safari World places his hand inside the mouth of a crocodile in 2009. (Creative Commons)

More theme park than conservation center, crowds are invited to watch apes, crocodiles, tigers, dolphins, sea lions and exotic birds perform. A zoo houses bears, giraffes, deer and hundreds of other species from Cambodia and elsewhere.

But according to Kim Botom, an administrator at the park, visitor numbers had fallen so low that opening hours were reduced to just Saturday and Sunday, prompting the decision to close it down altogether.

“We will close down Koh Kong in October and open in the New Year in Phnom Penh,” she said. “The new location will gather lots of customers because it is not as far away as Koh Kong and more people live in Phnom Penh.”

Koh Kong has become an eco-tourism haven in recent years, leaving some travellers in search of activities more in harmony with the province’s natural environment than the bawdy entertainment at Safari World, which was described by Irish zoologist Keri Cairns in the International Primate Protection League’s March 2012 newsletter.

“The orangutan show was a grim melange of costumed apes made to perform cheesy slapstick routines: Superman flying in on a zip-line trailing a Safari World banner, dancers ‘shaking their booties’ to hip-hop music and boxers pretending to knock each other out to a ‘boing-boing’ soundtrack,” Mr. Cairns wrote.

The zoologist had been part of a team enforcing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species sent to investigate the park in 2004 over the suspected illegal import of wildlife that resulted in a $57,000 fine for Mr. Yong Phat that was paid to the Agriculture Ministry.

Ms. Botom at Safari World declined to say where the new park would be located in Phnom Penh, and representatives of LYP Group did not respond to requests for comment.

Tek Ratanapich, head of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, which is located in the forests of Takeo province about 30 km from Phnom Penh, said he was not worried about the competition Safari World might bring.

“The Phnom Tamao zoo is not a business, it is a place for saving wildlife,” he said. “We never think about the profit, we think only about saving the victimized wildlife.”

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