The Khmer Angkor Tour Guide Association (Katga) called on the Apsara National Authority to reconsider its decision banning all animals from being released into the moat surrounding the Angkor Wat temple after the authority prohibited the action for the sake of visitors’ safety.
An Apsara National Authority statement on Friday said that the decision was made to protect tourists visiting the temple, which was originally built as a temple for the Hindu deity Vishnu before being converted into a Buddhist temple.
The statement reiterated that the temple was originally built to symbolically represent Mount Meru – the home of the Hindu gods. It added that the moat, which represents the ocean said to surround Mount Meru, also helps maintain the structure of the temple and store water during the dry season.
“In the meantime, the temple is a place where national and international tourists create fond memories. An Apsara National Authority environmental working group has regularly performed the task of cleaning the [moat] regularly. Please kindly don’t release animals into the moat,” the Apsara National Authority statement said.
Katga president Khieu Thy told The Post that the ban should only pertain to particularly venomous or vicious animals because some animals, such as various fish and tortoises do not pose a risk to tourists’ safety, instead they only beautify the area.
Thy pointed out that government officials and residents would regularly and sometimes ceremonially release fish, tortoises and eels into the moat believing that the act would clean them of misfortune and or as prayers for peace.
“The area has long been a holy shrine, so some people release fish and tortoises. But releasing crocodiles, snakes or any other vicious animals should be banned because we also fear that they cause a danger to humans,” he stressed.
Apsara National Authority spokesman Long Kosal on Wednesday reiterated that a number of faithful visited the temple each year since it was originally built to symbolically represent Mount Meru – the home of the Hindu gods.
Kosal said that a number of nearby residents would secretly release species of animals such as fish, crocodiles and tortoises into the moat, which endanger the lives of millions of tourists who visit the temple each year.
Ministry of Tourism undersecretary of state Top Sopheak told The Post: “We learned that a number of crocodiles and other animals had been released into the moat and to prevent these instances in the future, the Apsara National Authority asked citizens not to release any species of animals there to help preserve its cultural heritage.
“This is a place of worship. It is for locals and tourists from abroad to take photographs and craft lifelong memories,” Kosal said on Wednesday.
Sopheak underlined that the ministry supported the authority’s decision, saying that both parties were invested in the archaeological park’s preservation.
He advised that faithful who wish to observe their religion by releasing animals back into the wild should seek out tourist destinations such as pagodas, ponds and conservation areas rather than the holy moat.