Wildlife conservation took one step forward recently, with Cambodia planning to stop elephant rides at Angkor Wat, a famous temple complex and World Heritage site that sees millions of tourists each year. While unfortunately the rides won’t be stopped immediately, the country plans to do so by early 2020.
Currently, there are 14 elephants in use as part of the tourist attraction. There used to be more, however, as a result of the cruel practice and treatment, several have died or fallen ill. According to the Metro, in 2016, an elephant collapsed and died while carrying two tourists to Angkor Wat. In 2018, another elephant died of exhaustion, the impetus to a petition to end elephant rides.
The remaining elephants are going to be transferred to a conservation and breeding center. According to the Angkor Elephant Group Committee, “[Tourists] 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.”
A spokesperson for Moving Animals, an organization that raises awareness of the cruelty of elephant rides, said, “The end of elephant rides at Angkor Wat is truly a watershed moment that shows the tide is turning against cruel wildlife tourism.”
In order to tame elephants so that they can be used to give rides, they have to go through something called the phajaan process, which is essentially the crushing of the animal’s spirit. An elephant going through this process is locked in a small space where they’re unable to move, usually a cage, and then tortured through various methods. After some time, the elephant’s spirit becomes crushed enough, to the point where they’re utterly submissive to humans, and that’s when training for the rides and other basic commands would begin.
Elephants numbers in Southeast Asia have dropped immensely over the years, due to these cruel practices and others such as hunting. It’s believed that there are still 70 domesticated elephants in Cambodia, and around 500 in the wild — numbers that include the 110 elephants living in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary and about 200 in the Cardamom Mountains.
Hopefully, other places follow suit.