Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Nick Marx on his 21 years protecting the Kingdom’s wildlife

Nick Marx on his 21 years protecting the Kingdom’s wildlife

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Nick Marx talks to The Post at the Wildlife Alliance offices in Phnom Penh on July 4. Heng Chivoan

Nick Marx on his 21 years protecting the Kingdom’s wildlife

Englishman Nick Marx has been involved in conservation and wildlife in Cambodia for more than 20 years. He arrived in the Kingdom in 2001 to work for wildlife conservation NGO WildAid, now renamed the Wildlife Alliance. He is currently the Wildlife Alliance director of wildlife rescue and conservation in Cambodia.

In an interview with The Post, Mark said that after so many years in Cambodia, he intends to stay as long as he can. He is in-country as much as possible and tries to raise funds from all walks of life to support wildlife conservation and rescue programmes in Cambodia for the next generation.

Can you describe your student life and early life in England?

I am now 71 years old, and to be honest, when I was a child, I did not like to study. My parents always wanted me to study hard. They sent me to private schools until the age of 16, when I dropped out and went to work. My hobbies have always been the environment and wildlife.

When I was a child, I was very naughty and did not listen to the teacher. When I was asked to do something, I would do something else. Sometimes my teachers caned me and I changed schools several times. My parents were well off and we had a house in the city and a vacation home in the country.

In short, we were a family with a comfortable life. I am an orphan now. My father died many years ago and my mother passed away last year. I have a British son, but I am separated from my wife and have lived in Cambodia for 20 years. I do not have a family in Cambodia because I am busy working with wildlife conservation.

What were your hobbies as a child?

I knew I loved animals from a very young age, and was never happier than when I was with them. My neighbors knew I liked animals, so sometimes when their pets were ill I would take care of them.

Could you tell us about your work experience before coming to work in Cambodia?

I started working at a zoo in England at the age of 19. One of my friends was killed by a tiger at the zoo, but I had a good relationship with the tiger.

Later, I was told to stop associating with the tiger and to stay away from it because they were afraid that the tiger would attack me, but I could not stop. I was dismissed and migrated to South Africa, where I worked as a wildlife keeper and tour operator at a zoo.

I worked there for about 3 years, and then traveled to India to work as a herdsman for another 3 years. At the age of 25, I returned home to England. I could not find a suitable position, so I began studying ecology and biodiversity conservation. I only needed one year because I already had a lot of work experience.

When did you come to work in Cambodia?

I came to Cambodia in 2001 after passing an interview in the UK with Wild Aid. The reason I have been in Cambodia so long is because I love my job. Many organisations have invited me to work abroad because of my experience. I prefer to work in the Kingdom.

I am now happy working at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Conservation and Rescue Center, Forest Protection Communities in Kampong Speu and Oddar Meanchey, the Animal Care Center in Koh Kong and in collaboration with the Apsara National Authority in the Angkor Forest. I am happy to have state partners involved.

What are your concerns about wildlife in Cambodia?

In 2004, the forestry administration asked me to help protect the forest on Phnom Tamao. At that time, I was happy because we were conserving both wildlife and the forest, and there were many species of rare wildlife living in Phnom Tamao. I am now worried about the loss of wildlife because people are setting traps, selling wild animals and clearing forests, and wildlife conservationists are facing a lot of problems.

I used to see tigers, leopards, wild bovines, Eld’s deer, gaurs and bantengs but they gradually disappeared after they were trapped or became victims of deforestation. Snares are especially bad, because hundreds of traps are set. Sometimes poachers do not check their snares, and animals are left to starve and die in the forests. If they were hunters with guns, they would just shoot animals one by one, but the traps are indiscriminate.

Could you describe the potential of the zoo in Phnom Tamao?

There are many species at Phnom Tamao. Roe deer are starting to be rare in the world but there are many remaining in Cambodia. I believe there are development plans for Phnom Tamao, but I do not know exactly what they want to do.
I think development is healthy. If the forest is left intact, but ecotourism areas are developed, this would be a good use for the area.

Because there is a new airport in Kandal province, more tourists will get the chance to visit the zoo, which I believe would be great for tourism. If they clear the forest to build boreys, it will affect the Kingdom’s wildlife because there is no other place like it near Phnom Penh.

Frankly, I hate putting animals in cages like they are in prison, but Phnom Tamao is not like the zoos in my home country. It’s a conservation area, and we release a lot of animals into the forest through the conservation program. We have been doing it for 20 years. In my country, zoos are very different. When foreign tourists come to visit, they praise our work. Of course, some animals – like tigers and bears – can no longer be released into the forest as they are dangerous, but we make sure they are in spacious enclosures, surrounded by nature.

We breed rare animals and release wildlife; there is no place like us. Our wildlife release programme in Koh Kong province in Prey Angkor is widely respected, for example. I thank the Apsara National Authority, the Forestry Administration and the Ministry of Environment for working with us to conserve wildlife.

The difference between Phnom Tamao Zoo and those of other countries is, first, the nature of the animals. I have a friend who has visited zoos in England, Australia and the US and he said it was clear that their zoos have more money than ours.

This may be true, but the animals in Phnom Tamao are happier because we more have nature than concrete, and we can release them. Phnom Tamao should be considered a natural resource. The main reason foreigners love it is because this location is natural.

No other country has a natural zoo like this. Although zoos in other countries have a lot of money, they are not naturally beautiful.

After more than 20 years of living in Cambodia, have you obtained citizenship yet?

I have not yet received Khmer citizenship. I would like to – because I love Cambodia – but I don’t believe I am eligible. I do not know the Khmer alphabet and cannot read it, I just speak Khmer.

I never went to Khmer language school, but learned from my friends, who taught me one word at a time. I would make notes in a notebook. That being said, I thank Samdech [Hun Sen] for giving Khmer nationality to Ben Davis and his family, because Ben is my friend, and a good person who loves the environment and wildlife like me.

His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni issued a Royal Decree granting Cambodian citizenship to the four-member family of Benjamin Joseph Davis. The four include the couple and their two daughters.

I received the Royal Order of Sahametrei from the Royal Government in 2014.

What other plans do you have for Cambodia in the future?

In Cambodia, I have no plans other than wildlife conservation. Most importantly, I raise money for various projects and make sure I can pay all of my staff.

I raise about $700,000 a year, with some of my own money and some from the US, the UK and other places, because without money we could not carry out our work.

The reason they continue to give money to my project is because they know that I am honest and do a good job. At first, donors did not know if they could trust me and made small contributions. Once they saw our results, they began to give more.

I would like to ask the government and the people to love wildlife and forests with all their hearts and protect them for the future. I hope our descendants will be lucky enough to know the wildlife we know, and not just in pictures.

I will always be here. The reason I stay in Cambodia is because I have good friends and staff here and there is wildlife in need of conservation.

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