One of Asia’s most famous tourist attractions is taking a major stand for animals.
Following pressure from animal activist groups, Apsara, the management authority for the Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap, Cambodia announced in June 2019 it would ban elephant rides in early 2020.
Now, the process has already begun.
Local outlet the Khmer Times reports that on November 15, two of the 14 elephants currently at the park, site of the famed Angkor Wat temple, have been relocated to the nearby Bos Thom community forest.
Long Kosal, an Apsara press representative, told the Khmer Times that the remaining dozen animals would be relocated to the same forest by “early next year.”
“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,” Kosal said. “We want them to live in their natural surroundings.”
In 2016, an elephant named Sambo died at Angkor, drawing worldwide attention. Her death was blamed on a combination of heat stroke and exhaustion from ferrying so many human beings around.
Two years later, the World Wildlife Fund published an in-depth look at the dwindling populations of the Asian elephant, noting that the species’ population had declined by 50% in just three generations.
According to Angkor Enterprise, which manages park admissions, the UNESCO-listed site is facing a decline in tourist numbers.
Its latest report says 1.8 million foreign tourists bought passes to the temple complex from January to September – a 13.7% decline over the same 10-month period in 2018.
While there’s no predicting whether Cambodia’s ban on Angkor elephant rides will impact visitor numbers, it comes at a time when more and more travelers and tourism organizations around the world have moved to eliminate animal-related attractions.
Most recently, TripAdvisor – one of the world’s biggest travel listings and bookings sites – announced that it would not sell tickets to any sites that breed whales or dolphins in captivity, such as the theme park SeaWorld in the U.S.