Phnom Penh's elephant, Sambo

What we say: 3.5 stars

For the last 30 years, Sambo the elephant has been entertaining tourists at Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh. At 51 years of age Sambo is the only living elephant in Phnom Penh. She works seven days a week and now, the Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation (EARS) say that it’s time for her retirement.

Sambo the elephant. Photo courtesy of the Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation.

Tourists and locals are familiar with Sambo’s daily morning and sunset walk along Sisowath Quay, but most do not know her story. Sambo was born in 1960 in Kampong Speu province and captured when she was eight years old. In 1977 she was taken and abused by the Khmer Rouge, who evacuated her to Pursat province. Unlike her fellow elephant buddies, Sambo survived the ordeal and was eventually reunited with her original owner, Sin Sorn. In 1982, they moved to Phnom Penh where Sambo gives rides to tourists at Wat Phnom.

At the end of October Sin Sorn allowed EARS to conduct a medical examination of Sambo, for which they flew in veterinarians from Hong Kong. The doctors agreed that Sambo’s condition is fragile — she suffers from lameness and painful abscesses in her feet that are exacerbated by her long walk to Wat Phnom and her daily work of carrying tourists on her back.

“She has a deep black abscess in the sole of her right foot and we believe could soon collapse if she is not fully retired and given urgent medical treatment,” Louise Rogerson, the director of EARS and the woman who is working to get Sambo the medical care that she needs, told me by email. “The main reason explaining the limb lesions is the lifestyle of the animal which involves walking on hard ground on damaged feet.”

EARS has a petition to retire Sambo. They are offering to fund Sambo’s entire medical treatment and give her a comfortable place to live if Sambo’s owner is willing to retire her; given that Sambo is how Sin Sorn earns his income, retirement presumably presents a financial difficulty for him.

If you’d like to help Sambo, Louise has a few suggestions in addition to signing the petition. She asks that tourists do not pay to take a tourist ride on Sambo around the temple as this will only add to her suffering. “If you visit the temple, please voice your concern to Sambo’s owner about the horrifying condition of her feet, making it very clear that he is abusing his elephant by forcing her to work,” she said. “We are also worried that should Sambo collapse whilst a tourist is riding in the chair, it could lead to an accident to both the tourist and the elephant.”

If you would like to interact with elephants in Cambodia, Louise recommends visiting one of two rescue centres: Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre (PTWRC), which is one hour from Phnom Penh and the Elephant Valley Project (EVP) in Mondulkiri. “Visitors can enjoy a close up interaction with rescued elephants whilst also helping to protect them,” Louise added.

Last updated: 8th August, 2014


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