Working elephants have long played a part in the history of Cambodia. They have been depicted in bas relief and other forms of sculpture for centuries, particularly on and among the temples of the Angkor Wat.
As the twenty first century rolled around it naturally evolved that elephants would play an important part in showcasing what has become Cambodia’s top tourist destination, Angkor Wat. And showcase it they did; the elephants all adorned with colorful blankets and kitted out with a howdah, a special elephant riding seat.
The dark side of elephant riding was never shown, and the public has remained blissfully unaware.
The significance of a recently announced ban on elephant riding by the governing body in charge of the Angkor archaeological park cannot be overlooked. It is a significant victory for our elephants in Cambodia, long overdue.
The Apsara Authority has already begun relocating the 14 remaining elephants to a nearby “community forest” to a protected area under the protective care of the Elephant Management Association. They hope to have all of their riding elephants retired, and to complete their elephant relocation, by the first quarter of 2020.
Perhaps it is because of the senseless death of Sambo the elephant who, in 2016,”in the scorching heat“, suffered a heart attack. When the elephant collapsed she had been bearing the weight of a human and a howdah / riding chair upon her back. Perhaps those in authority at the Angkor temples have finally listened.
Perhaps it is because compassionate humans are coming forward in defense of our elephants subjected to such cruelty** (15 years, in Sambo’s case, working as a trekking elephant) that positive changes for our elephants in Cambodia are finally being made.
Perhaps these kind humans really understand that elephants just want to be elephants and to live (albeit protected) in the wild.
One such resident in the area of Siem Reap, Ly Huoch, said he felt for the elephants who were constantly being forced to transport sightseeing tourists, trekking up and down nearby mountains in the Angkor archaeological park. “I support… the elephants… because they are working so hard and should be free,” Mr. Huoch exclaimed.
May elephants continue to be protected worldwide. And just as the remarkable art of bas-relief holds the mysteries of elephants past may the practice of elephant riding soon fade away and into those hallowed walls of history as well.
Images: CC Flickr by mrpbps King Riding Elephant in Ancient Times in Bas Relief at Angkor Wat Cambodia; by DanaPJ Elephant Riding at Angkor Wat Cambodia; by joaquinuy Overhead View of Elephant Riding at Angkor Wat Cambodia ; by Infidelic Riding Elephant at Angkor Wat,,Cambodia; by Mr Charity Trekking Elephant Walks on Rough Terrain near Angkor Wat, Cambodia; CC Wikimedia Cambodia Terrace of Elephants Angkor Bas Relief Carving art
**Elephants’ are abused as their spirits are being broken using the training methods of phajaan / the crush with humans wielding bull hooks or electric prods. This in addition to being forced to adjust to inhospitable terrain and weather conditions.
Fact: Only about 400 to 600 elephants remain in the Kingdom of Indochina of which Cambodia serves as the elephants’ primary refuge.
Elephant Crushing wiki
Angkor Wat wiki
Howdah / elephant riding chair wiki
“Apsara Authority moves elephants out of Angkor area” by Pech Sotheary
“Elephant rides at famed Angkor temples are to be banned by Cambodia and the elderly animals given a new home in the jungle” by Afp and Chris Dyer for MailOnline / The Daily Mail
“Tragic elephant drops dead from exhaustion after 15 years of being made to carry tourists to a Cambodian temple” By Richard Shears for MailOnline / The Daily Mail
Watch YouTube video by Smithsonian Channel “The Intricate Stories Carved into Angkor Wat’s Walls”
Watch YouTube video by men samnang “terrace of elephants in angkor thom – Cambodia”
Please note: This is actually a video of the cruel training methods that riding elephants & other performing elephants are forced to endure called phajaan or the crush. This video is quite disturbing. Watch YouTube video by Cambodia Facebook News “Elephant Collapses and Dies After Being Forced Give Rides to Tourists in Cambodia”
Please note: This video is quite disturbing. Watch YouTube video by ASEAN in FOCUS Channel “Elephant collapses and dies carrying tourist in 40 degrees celcius (sic) heat”
Please note: Portions of this video are quite disturbing. Watch YouTube video By Veuer Channel “Elephant Dies After Carrying Tourists in Cambodia”