On Friday (22nd April), a female elephant named Sambo died by the roadside after carrying tourists in 40C heat around Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat temple complex outside Siem Reap. Sambo, aged between 40 – 45 years old, had been working around 45 minutes, walking 2.1 kilometres carrying tourists, before she collapsed on her way to an enclosure.
Veterinarians concluded that the elephant’s death was caused by hot temperatures which led to stress, shock, high blood pressure, and a heart attack.
Sambo was buried on Friday night at the complex.
Photos were widely shared on social media, triggering an outpouring of grief and criticism. The elephant’s death prompted calls for Cambodia to reform the already controversial elephant ride industry and a petition was posted on change.org calling for the end of elephant riding.
“There is no such thing as cruelty-free elephant rides.”
After the news made international headlines, the Cambodian tour operator, Angkor Elephant Co.’s Oan Kiri, said that they have reduced work hours for elephants. Oan has 8 elephants still working and 5 others that are too old to carry tourists.
He added that the company was “regretful and felt pity” and would now let the 13 remaining elephants work fewer hours (2 1/2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the late afternoon) until temperatures drop.
Intense spells of hot and dry weather brought on by El Nino have been affecting most part of Southeast Asia and the Greater Mekong region has been experiencing temperatures as high as 40C (104 Fahrenheit). The heat has been unbearable for human beings, let alone animals.
Although handlers and tour operators have long argued that tourism provides much needed income and employment for people, animals rights groups have long complained that elephants are routinely overworked and brutally broken in during training. In fact, Thailand has seen multiple cases in recent months where the majestic creatures have killed their handlers or attacked tourists.
In February this year, 36-year-old Gareth Crowe, a British tourist on holiday with his family in Koh Samui, Thailand, was killed by an elephant in front of his teenage daughter. He was trekking on the elephant with his daughter and a local guide when it turned violent and trampled him before stabbing him in the chest with a tusk. The incident made the tour company, Island Safari, suspend all operations for 10 – 15 days to review their procedures.
As at time of writing, the change.org petition has garnered over 45,800 signatures.