Sambo Needs Urgent Medical Treatment, says NGO

A wildlife rescue group is calling for the retirement of Phnom Penh’s beloved resident elephant, Sambo, claiming that a recent examination reveals the pachyderm is in dire need of medical treatment.

“[Sambo] urgently needs medical treatment and to live in a forest environment with soft earth under her feet,” said Louise Rogerson, founder of Hong Kong-based Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation (EARS), by e-mail yesterday, adding that her recuperation period would be for 18 to 24 months.

EARS sent veterinarian Dr Paolo Martelli to examine Sambo in October after the elephant developed a limp.

Sambo’s owner, Sin Sorn, emphasized that he welcomed the free medical examination, but said it would be difficult to retire the elephant. “If Sambo retires, how can my family and I survive? I spend $200 to keep her, and about $1,500 to feed both her and my family,” he said.

Mr Sorn earns about $1,800 to $2,000 a month from Sambo giving rides to tourists around Wat Phnom.

Mr Sorn said he would not consider selling Sambo because she is like family to him, but said he would accept EARS’ proposal if the group paid him $1,500 a month.

According to Dr Martelli’s diagnosis, Sambo suffers from bone inflammation and painful infections on the sole of her foot. She also has several lesions in her limbs. “The main reason…is the lifestyle of the animal, which involves walking on hard ground…on damaged feet,” says Dr Martelli’s report.

EARS has volunteered to cover all Sambo’s medical costs, but only if Mr Sorn agrees to stop Sambo from working. “The vet said it would be counter-productive to treat Sambo if they continue walking her on the hard, hot asphalt roads to the [Wat Phnom] temple,” said Ms Rogerson.

In August, EARS successfully rallied the government and Mr Sorn to let Sambo work only four days a week, with a three-day rest, instead of every day.

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