Every year millions of tourists visit northern Siem Reap in Cambodia to explore the Angkor archaeological complex, the site of numerous temples built between the 9th and 15th centuries.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the park spans 154.44 square miles (400 square kilometers) and many visitors choose to travel the park by elephant to explore the impressive monuments. The parks 14 elephants have been trained to carry passengers and also put on performances for tourists.
As is the case elsewhere in Asia where elephants are used to carry tourists, Siem Reap has been criticized for this practice and also because many of the animals are old or unhealthy. Handlers have been accused by animal rights activists of overworking the elephants and have encouraged officials to stop the use of elephants as entertainment for tourists.
As reward for the animal rights activist’s efforts and staying the course, a ban on the practice was announced earlier this year and an officially confirmed on November 15 and will come into effect early next year, The Straits Times reports.
Long Kosal, a spokesperson with the Apsara Authority which manages the park, admitted that ‘using elephants for business is not appropriate anymore’ and that some of their elephants were already old.
The elephants will be moved from the park to a community forest about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away and will be taken care of by the company that owns them.
‘’They will live out their natural lives there,’’ Kosal added.
Five of the 14 working elephants have already been moved to the forest and the rest will be joining them over the next couple of months. If all goes to plan, the rides and performances will officially end before the start of 2020.
The ban comes three years after an elephant collapsed and died at the park while carrying two tourists. A veterinarian who examined the elephant found it had died ‘’due to high temperatures, heat exhaustion and lack of wind that would have helped to cool her’’, according to a report in the Independent at that time.
Last year, another working elephant died at Siem Reap, under similar circumstances, which sparked a petition to end the rides garnered over 14,000 signatures.
Hopefully this will be the ripple in the pond allowing these gentle giants across Asia to live free, as all wild animals should.
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