Phnom Penh’s beloved elephant, Sambo, will be allowed to go back to giving rides at Wat Phnom, but only after her owner promises in writing to stop causing traffic jams during rush hour, municipal governor Kep Chuktema said yesterday.
Mr Chuktema said that the elephant, who has been banned from walking the streets since Saturday, would have to stay home until her owner writes the governor a letter promising not to walk the elephant home along the riverside during the evening rush hour, when the area is congested.
“I understand that the owner wants to show to the tourists our friend–to see the elephant and give something to the elephant–but the traffic jam is not good. The big problem is here,” Mr Chuktema said, adding that he would send Sambo to the Phnom Tamao zoo if her owner refused to comply.
The ban followed complaints from people forced to wait for the elephant as it stopped at vendors on the Sisowath Quay during rush hour, he said, noting that he did not object to the pachyderm’s presence on city streets.
“I like this elephant, [she] has a history during the Pol Pot regime. And we can say the elephant is part of the landscape of Phnom Penh.”
Sin Sorn, Sambo’s owner, said that he was happy to follow the governor’s wishes and change the time he takes the elephant back to her overnight home opposite the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
“I will follow what the municipality orders and will agree to make a promise not to bring Sambo back at the time when there are traffic jams,” Mr Sorn said.
Crowds celebrated Sambo’s 50th birthday at Wat Phnom this year, which marked 42 years since Mr Sorn took her out of the jungles of Kompong Speu. The elephant spent four hard years under the Khmer Rouge working farmland before reuniting with her master after the regime’s collapse. Sambo arrived in Phnom Penh in 1982 and remains the city’s only elephant.