Hundreds of thousands of bats have made themselves at home in Phnom Penh’s National Museum, where their droppings are befouling the ancient statues on display - not to mention visitors.
Reeling from the stench, tourists come away with shirts covered in black specks, their arms itching from the bites of insects that feed on the droppings.
No one is quite sure what attracts the bats to the museum compound, but for years they’ve been roosting there every day. The sky fills with their darting silhouettes as they arrive at dawn and leave at dusk.
Conservationists worry that the 5,800 statues housed in the museum are slowly being ruined. Some of the statues - likenesses of ancient gods - date to the sixth century. Every day, their heads and shoulders have to be wiped clean.
The bats hang on palm trees in the compound, crowd the crevices of the red-tiled roofs, or squirm in the attic between the roof and the museum ceiling. Through holes in the ceiling, the droppings shower the galleries.
Authorities don’t want to kill them.
“We would like them to go away by themselves,” said the museum director, Pich Keo.