Elephant rides will be banned from one of Cambodia’s most famous tourist attractions by 2020.
Angkor Wat, a massive religious site that has stood since the 12th century, attracts more than 2.5 million international tourists each year. One of its most famous attractions are the elephant rides, where the animals are forced to ferry tourists on their backs through the streets. The 14 elephants still used to carry tourists will retire by next year.
“In early 2020, our association plans to end the use of elephants to transport tourists,” Oan Kiry, director of the Angkor Elephant Committee said in a statement. “They can still watch the elephants and take photos of them in our conservation and breeding centre. We want the elephants to live in as natural a manner as possible.”
Are Elephant Rides Cruel?
Asian elephants are highly social creatures, often living together in groups of six or seven females led by a matriarch, who teaches the younger animals life skills such as how to raise their young and find food and water.
Metro reports that the Angkor Wat attraction sparked backlash in 2016 when one elephant died while carrying two tourists through the centuries-old temple. Two years later, another elephant died of exhaustion and a petition to end elephant rides earned more than 14,000 signatures.
Moving Animals, a nonprofit that works to raise awareness of the various ways animals are exploited for food, clothing, and entertainment, called the decision to end Angkor Wat’s elephant ride a “watershed moment” for the animal tourism industry.
“More and more tourists no longer want to pay to see animals in chains or captivity, and attractions where elephant riding continues, need to ban these rides if they are to stay in favour with tourists and animal lovers,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
Cambodia’s wild elephant population is on the decline due to poaching, habitat destruction, and human-wildlife conflict — the World Wildlife Fund notes that elephants love cultivated crops like bananas and sugarcane. It’s estimated that 500 wild elephants remain in Cambodia. O According to Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra, the government is working with various organizations on strategies to protect the endangered species. Pheaktra also noted the importance of strengthening law enforcement against poaching.
Save Elephant Foundation, a Thai nonprofit dedicated to saving Asian elephants, works with the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary to protect and restore jungle habitats destroyed by illegal logging just north of Angkor Wat.