In a tragic and preventable incident at Angkor Wat, an elephant named Sambo took her last breath as she collapsed and died while being forced to give a ride to tourists. The elderly elephant reportedly died from a heart attack after being forced to walk for 40 minutes in the scorching heat.
Sambo had been exploited by the Angkor Elephant Company for 15 years, forced to ferry tourists to and from the temple complex several times a day in the searing Cambodian heat. On the day that it all became too much for her, the temperature in Siem Reap reached a blazing 40°C.
Tragic scenes like this one are not uncommon where elephants are forced to give rides, and these animals are routinely pushed beyond the point of exhaustion in the deadly elephant tourism industry. Just last year, a 40-year-old elephant and a 43-year-old elephant both succumbed to the same fate and dropped dead in Vietnam from being overworked for the benefit of tourists. Elephants all over Southeast Asia endure the same miserable fate, as they are forced to give rides in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand—the hub of this barbaric industry.
In order to force elephants to give rides in the first place, the animals go through hell and back again. The barbaric phajaan ritual is used to break baby elephants’ spirits and force them to submit to humans. Phajaan literally means “breaking the love between” (referring to the love between a baby elephant and his or her mother). In these training camps, still-nursing baby elephants are dragged from their mothers, bound with ropes and steel cables, and immobilized in wooden cages. They are beaten mercilessly for days while being deprived of food, water, and sleep.
What You Can Do
Tourists’ money drives this abusive industry. Please, if you travel to Thailand, Vietnam, or anywhere else that elephant rides are offered, refuse to support this cruelty.