Cambodia is banning elephant rides at Angkor Wat
Cambodia is banning elephant rides at Angkor Wat, the country's most popular tourist attraction. A handful of the 14 elephants at the Angkor Wat complex have already been moved to nearby Bos Tham forest.
Previously, the animals were used daily to transport visitors around the famed temple complex, which welcomes more than 2.6 million tourists a year. But back in 2016, a female elephant named Sambo collapsed and died after ferrying tourists around Angkor during intense heat. Shortly thereafter, a Change.org petition collected over 185,000 signatures to ban elephant riding at Angkor.
Apparently, Apsara (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap) took the public pressure seriously, and is gradually transferring the remaining elephants out of Angkor by early 2020 in conjunction with the Elephant Management Association.
“The elephant is a big animal, but it is also gentle, and we don’t want to see the animals being used for tourism activities anymore," Long Kosal, a spokesperson for Apsara, told the Khmer Times. "We want them to live in their natural surroundings.”
Cambodia isn't the only place pushing for the well-being of elephants and other wild animals this year. In 2019, New Jersey and Hawaii joined five other states and many U.S. cities in banning the use of wild animals in circuses. In April 2019, Madrid banned wild-animal circuses, and just a few days ago, Paris also banned wild animals in circuses, effective in 2020. England is also banning the use of wild animals in circuses, starting in 2020. And in September 2019, the U.K.'s ABTA British Travel Association created a set of guidelines for animals in tourism, condemning elephant shows and elephant rides as "unacceptable" and declaring that the U.K. travel industry does not support them.
How does this affect tourists?
So what does this mean for tourists? You can still see Angkor Wat (and many other destinations) responsibly, without harming animals in the process.
If you do choose to interact with animals during your travels, make sure to carefully vet the organization arranging it and ensure that it's socially responsible and treating the animals right. There are many support organizations that rescue elephants from illegal logging camps and abusive tourist attractions and elephants shows, caring for them in an eco-friendly manner.
Reading reviews before you reserve any tours can help you choose socially responsible organizations. Be sure to visit the website for EARSAsia, the Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation, which lists organizations in Southeast Asia that treat elephants ethically. (You can volunteer, visit or send donations, too.) The organization also provides tips for choosing and researching an organization to volunteer with or visit.