A petition to end elephant riding at Angkor Wat in Cambodia has garnered more than 14,000 signatures in just 48 hours after an elderly elephant trained to carry tourists collapsed and died in 40 degree heat.
Sambo, aged between 40 and 45, died after walking for 40 minutes, carrying two tourists, one at a time, between two temples in the ancient archaeological complex.
A vet established that Sambo “died of a heart attack due to high temperatures and lack of wind”, according to the Phnom Penh Post.
The newspaper quoted Oan Kiri, manager of the Angkor Elephant Company, which had owned Sambo since 2001, as saying the company was saddened by the loss.
Campaigners in Cambodia say Sambo’s death should be the catalyst to lead to the banning of elephant tourism.
“It’s time to end elephant riding,” read the petition addressed to the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA).
“The death… should be the final wake-up call for the community and tourism industry to take the steps needed to end this horrific practice.
“There is no such thing as cruelty-free elephant rides. Tourists may think that riding an elephant on holiday does not cause harm… what you don’t realise is that a ‘once in a lifetime’ or ‘bucket list’ item for you means a lifetime of misery for wild animals.”
Jack Highwood, who runs the Elephant Valley Project, a Cambodian charity that supports elephants in captivity, said: “It is the smoothness of the trekking elephant’s foot that always amazes me and [is] testimony to how many kilometres they must have travelled to get into this situation. Very sad.”
He said that the Angkor Elephant Company still has 13 elephants, adding that working conditions for the animals should be regulated.
A Facebook post by a passer-by, Yem Senok, showing photos of the dead elephant has been shared more than 8000 times.
The ethics of elephant tourism in Thailand were called into question earlier this year when a British man was trampled to death by an elephant.
“To me, this incident is symptomatic of the increasing number of elephant camps being located close to beaches throughout Thailand without the space to look after them properly,” said John Edward Roberts, director of elephants and conservation activities at the Anantara Resorts & Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a leading elephant conservation camp.
Last month the World Animal Protection group (WAP) announced it had secured the support of more than 100 travel operators in efforts to halt the abuse of elephants for entertainment.
The Telegraph, London
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