Sambo, the elephant who was an institution on Phnom Penh’s streets for much of the past three decades, celebrated her birthday on Sunday on a patch of land in Sen Sok district that recently became her home.
About 30 people gathered for the event, where Sambo was feted with piles of fruit and a birthday cake. She trundled through the crowd, grabbing fruit with her trunk and wearing a jasmine necklace as well as a banner that read “Happy 53th Birthday Sambo!”
Sambo’s new home has been made suitable for a pachyderm over the past year, with a large concrete basin for bathing and a fenced-in field where the elephant spends most of her time.
Sambo and her owner Sin Sorn, who for almost 30 years could be seen meeting with tourists and offering rides around Wat Phnom, left the city center about a year ago after City Hall announced that Sambo was retiring.
The decision followed calls from an animal protection group for Sambo to receive medical treatment for an infected foot and complaints from City Hall over Sambo causing traffic jams during rush hour.
But Mr. Sorn refuted reports that she had retired.
“My elephant is not old or retired. She is sick and needs to stay home for medical treatment,” Mr. Sorn said. “I think that Sambo will recover 100 percent in five months and I want to ask City Hall to bring her back to Wat Phnom.”
However, according to Louise Rogerson, the founder of the Hong Kong-based Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation, Sambo will never fully recover due to the lasting effects of a foot infection that lasted for about five years.
Ms. Rogerson, who has been overseeing Sambo’s recovery, said that Sambo’s welfare should be prioritized above other considerations, such as the income that Sambo can potentially generate for Mr. Sorn and his family.
“She has relaxed a lot since she is not forced to walk through busy roundabouts on her pained feet,” she said, adding that Mr. Sorn receives $600 a month from her foundation to care for Sambo.
“Mr. Sorn has done a great job with her recovery, but we need to focus on what is best for the elephant.”