Elephants can be seen everywhere here: large stone ones guard the entrances to pagodas, armour-wearing ones carry men to battle in the temple carvings and there is even an Elephant Terrace amongst the ruins of Angkor Thom. Elephants feature in Cambodian myths, they frequently appear in the designs woven in textiles, their statues adorn many public buildings, and live ones give rides to tourists.
However, I’m not sure that riding elephants is an ethically or morally correct activity for tourists here, as the poor beasts are often not well treated, according to Jack Highwood who runs the Elephant Valley Project. The project, in the northeastern
is home to 12 elephants that Jack has rescued from locals, though, in this
case, the mahouts often accompany their elephants to the sanctuary – being paid
to care for their elephants at the sanctuary provides an alternative income for
these local people. province of Mondulkiri
|The Elephant Terrace at Angkor Thom|
The indigenous people of northeastern
actively work with elephants, using them to haul logs from the jungle, periodically
harvesting their ivory for sale to the Vietnamese, and, latterly, using these
majestic beasts to carry tourists on treks to local tourist attractions. Cambodia
Sadly, these elephants are frequently mistreated. The methods used to render them safe around tourists are nothing short of torture, designed to crush their spirits, and they are often overworked and undernourished – elephants need to eat for 15 to 20 hours each day just to maintain their body weight, impossible if they’re out trekking with tourists all day.
According to 2006 statistics, there are just over 200 elephants living in captivity in
200 and 300 wild elephants. The Cambodian jungle does, in fact, provide an
ideal habitat for the elephants and large areas of dense and seemingly remote forest
still remain here. However, even in these remote areas, the elephant population
has been decimated by ivory hunters and by the prevalence of landmines. Cambodia
|Elephants as temple decorations|
My organisaton, Globalteer, provides volunteers and financial support to the Elephant Valley Project, which I hope to visit in the coming months. If you care about elephants, don’t be tempted to ride them. Instead, spend a week or two helping to care for them – bathing them, feeding them and helping to conserve their forest environment. I’m sure that would be a much more satisfying experience.