Celebrations at Wat Phnom as Sambo the Elephant Turns 50

More than 100 locals and tourists gathered at Wat Phnom yesterday to mark the 50th birthday of Sam­bo, Phnom Penh’s only elephant.

The event came as a welcome break from the pachyderm’s daily routine of carrying tourists around the capital’s founding temple. After five Buddhist monks blessed the ele­phant, a band showered her with a round of “happy birthday, Sam­bo.” Visitors also got to feed her bananas, mangos, sugar cane and other treats.

“It is the first birthday celebration ever for her and the first elephant birthday [celebration] ever in Phnom Penh,” said Sambo’s own­er, Sin Sorn, 53. “This is a reminder of my parents, who took her from the jungle and brought good luck and peace to me as well as the people of Phnom Penh.”

Mr Sorn said his father took Sambo out of the jungles of Kom­pong Speu province 42 years ago. She spent a hard four years under the Khmer Rouge working farmland before reuniting with her master upon the regime’s collapse. She arrived in Phnom Penh in 1982.

“Her leg was axed by the Khmer Rouge and she almost died,” Mr Sorn said, pointing to a hole in the heel of Sambo’s back left foot. “She is like my sister. We’ve had a long, sad life together.”

“Me and my younger brother care for her every day,” he said. “Still, we have difficulty supporting her with food.” According to Mr Sorn, Sambo eats 70 kg of food a day.

He hopes eventually to marry the lady off. “We will celebrate her wedding ceremony if I find a male elephant,” he said.

“She is an important part of Phnom Penh; everybody sees her walking around every day,” said Tassilo Brinzer, owner of La Croi­sette restaurant and the magazine Southeast Asia Globe, the celebration’s main sponsor. “Sambo is one of the witnesses of the Khmer Rouge…the rebuilding of Phnom Penh and Cambodia. Sambo is a very essential part of Phnom Penh.”

Mr Brinzer said he hoped the ce­lebration brings more tourists to the city and garners more support for the elephant, on whom he personally spends $100 a month.

“We really need support such as medical supplies and food, and for Sambo’s owner,” he said.

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