PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) – The owner of a company that provides elephant rides to tourists at Cambodia’s fabled Angkor Wat temple complex has reduced the working hours of his animals after one collapsed and died in the debilitating heat enveloping Southeast Asia.
Angkor Elephant Co. owner Oan Kiri said Tuesday his remaining elephants will work 2 1/2 hours in the morning and about two hours in the late afternoon, an hour less than previously.
He said he decided to reduce their work after a female named Sambo died Friday after carrying some tourists. He said veterinarians blamed the death on heart failure from stress triggered by the temperature, which has pushed past 38 C (100 F) in recent days.
Kiri said Sambo, who was buried Friday night at the complex, was between 40 and 45 years old, and had been in his care since 2001. He said he has eight elephants still working and five others that are too old to carry tourists.
The elephant’s death triggered an outpouring of grief and criticism on social media in Cambodia and elsewhere. A petition was posted on the website change.org addressed to the Apsara Authority, the organization managing the Angkor archaeological site, calling for the end of elephant riding there.
“A cruel tourist attraction that is proven to be harmful to elephants, and can only damage the tourism industry of Cambodia, must finally come to an end,” it says.
“There is no such thing as cruelty free elephant rides,” it says. “Tourists may think that riding an elephant on holiday does not cause harm – you often can’t see the cruelty – it’s hidden from view. What you don’t realize is that a ‘once in a lifetime’ or ‘bucket list’ item for you, means a lifetime of misery for wild animals.”
Domesticated elephants used to be employed in large numbers for logging in Southeast Asia but mechanization and deforestation pushed most of them out of that role, and they are now often found at tourist attractions.