Cambodia Bans Elephant Rides at Angkor Wat Beginning in 2020

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Photo: World Animal Protection / Saranya Chalermchai

Each year, Cambodia’s legendary Angkor archaeological park is visited by millions of tourists, many of whom take elephant rides to explore the famed temples.

Since 2001, elephants have been used at the temples to not only provide such rides but also to put on performances for visitors.

Tourists who engage in these offerings are unwittingly supporting a cruel and inhumane life for the elephants, one that begins with torture during the elephant’s earliest years as part of a traditional practice known as phajaan, which involves beating an elephant in order to break its spirit and prepare it for serving humans.

Employed throughout Asia, the practice has long been objected to by animal rights organizations and conservation groups, who also oppose elephants being used to provide rides and entertainment for tourists.

Phajaan, however, is just the beginning of the bleak lives elephants face in captivity. They’re fed poor diets and given no opportunity to socialize, which is traumatizing for such highly-intelligent creatures who are used to forming strong social bonds and living in tight-knit clans.

Making matters worse, they often receive only limited veterinary care and are frequently kept on concrete floors. And during the course of their lives, elephants are routinely overworked, with some being quite literally worked to death.

In the case of Angkor Wat, as recently as 2016, a female elephant died by the roadside after carrying tourists around in incredibly hot weather.

Now, in what represents a recent rare win for conservationists, Cambodian government officials have just revealed that all elephant rides at the Angkor temple park will be banned by early next year.

The announcement came from the Apsara Authority, the government agency charged with overseeing the archaeological site.

The officials, according to the Daily Mail, have acknowledged that “it is important for the animals to be able to live in their natural habitat” and that there are other ways to provide attractions and rides for tourists.

This is a significant victory for the elephants involved as the Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the vast majority of Cambodia’s tourists, which last year alone was six million people. And many of those people choose to take elephant rides.

There are 14 elephants at the site many of which are old and not in good health, the Daily Mail reported.

“No elephant should have to endure the humiliating and dangerous ordeal of lugging tourists on their backs for a cheap thrill. Forcing these gentle giants to perform extends their suffering in captivity and hides the devastating truth from tourists that their “once-in-a-lifetime“ experience is only made possible by behind-the-scenes cruelty, Alesia Soltanpanah, Executive Director World Animal Protection US, told TravelPulse.

World Animal Protection’s own report, Taken for a Ride, delves deep into the conditions at elephant venues in Asia showing that more than three-quarters of elephants are kept in horrific conditions and have their spirits deliberately broken as part of phajaan.

A spokesman with the Apsara Authority, which manages the park, has said that “using elephants for business is not appropriate anymore.”

The animals will instead live out the remainder of their lives in a community forest about 25 miles from the temples. Two of the elephants have already been transported to this new location. The remainder will be relocated through the end of 2019.

Elephant rides are ubiquitous throughout Cambodia, as they are in Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos.

In recent years, a seismic shift has begun to take place in the travel industry with hundreds of tour operators no longer offering elephant rides as part of their itineraries, acknowledging that such offerings are wrong and inhumane.

At least 245 travel companies—including TUI, Intrepid, The Travel Corporation, G Adventures, DER Touristik Group, Thomas Cook Group, QYER, and EXO Travel have all pledged to cease selling or promoting elephant rides.

In September, Fodor’s Travel joined the movement, announcing that it had stopped recommending elephant rides and updating its content to provide information about the cruelty inherent in captive-elephant attractions

As animal welfare organizations have long noted, the best place and most responsible place to see an elephant is in the wild, where they are roaming free, and there are plenty of places to do this.

“Moving these elephants out of this UNESCO world heritage site is a step in the right direction and for the right reasons, but we will not stop until all elephants are retired from riding and other harmful direct contact activities and allowed to live out the remainder of their lives, simply, being elephants,” said Soltanpanah, of World Animal Protection US.

Read the full article at Travel Pulse:

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