Tourists taking an elephant ride near Angkor Wat in April 2019. Photo: Moving Animals / Courtesy
Tourists taking an elephant ride near Angkor Wat in April 2019. Photo: Moving Animals / Courtesy

SIEM REAP — Tourists will now have to walk on foot to Angkor Wat because elephant rides will be banned by next year.

The Angkor Elephant Group Committee, the elephant rides operator, has promised to end the service under mounting pressure from the international community after one of its elephants died from exhaustion in 2016.

“In early 2020, our association plans to end the use of elephants to transport tourists,” the committee’s director Oan Kiry told The Phnom Penh Post in May. “We want the elephants to live in as natural a manner as possible.”

All 14 elephants in service will be transferred to a conservation and breeding center, where tourists will be able to take photos with them.

The end of elephant rides is a decisive victory for a Change.org petition, which was signed by more than 185,000 people in a campaign that started three years ago.

“There is no such thing as cruelty-free elephant rides,” the petition reads. “Tourists may think that riding an elephant on holiday does not cause harm – you often can’t see the cruelty – it’s hidden from view.”

Domesticated elephants are often subjected to cruelty by their owners, including being beaten with bullhooks to inflict pain and compel the following of orders, according to animal rights group PETA.

The government of Cambodia has yet to respond to calls for a complete ban on elephant rides.

Meanwhile in Thailand, elephant rides and shows are still common, and can even be found in elephant conservation centers. In May, a show elephant at Phuket Zoo died after a digestive infection was neglected for months, sparking international outrage.

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