updated 5/3/2007 10:41:35 AM ET 2007-05-03T14:41:35

Wildlife officials rescued more than 250 threatened wild animals from a private zoo, where they had been kept in appalling conditions without sufficient food, a government official and a conservation group said Thursday.

The Cambodian government closed the Angkor Zoo in Siem Reap province, home to the famed Angkor Wat temple, after many animals died or disappeared, Washington D.C.-based Wildlife Alliance said in a statement.

"The zoo lacked food and hygiene," said Vann Sophana, a forestry administration inspector with Cambodia's Agriculture Ministry. "It did not have a veterinarian, and its cages are narrow. The animals are skinny and hungry."

Nick Marx, a Wildlife Alliance animal husbandry specialist, said the animals remained at Angkor Zoo and were being looked after by a team of rescuers. Arrangements were being made for some to be transferred beginning this weekend to the Phnom Tamao Zoo, about 200 miles south of Siem Reap province.

The zoo holds a variety of wild animals, including clouded leopards, sun bears, pangolins, gibbons, otters and wild birds, Wildlife Alliance said. But several endangered animals at the zoo, including two species of leopards, two gibbons, storks and deer, have died or disappeared in recent months.

Zoo owner Seng Chhoeun said he called in a private veterinarian to look after the animals whenever they were sick but that the deaths were "unavoidable because there were so many of them."

Seng Chhoeun dismissed allegations that he was involved in the illegal wildlife trade. He said he bought the animals from villagers when the zoo was opened five years ago, but never asked where they got the animals from.

Full veterinary checkups will be performed on all the animals, many of which may be sick or injured. Healthy birds, reptiles and amphibians will be released into protected natural habitats, the alliance said.

The size of Angkor Zoo is about 2.5 acres, which is considered "extremely small" for a large number of animals, Marx said.

"The animals that are still there (at Angkor Zoo) are probably the tough ones that have survived poor conditions and diet," Marx said. "We're extremely happy ... that this (zoo) is closed."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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