Governor Keeps Open Mind About Sambo’s Replacement

Now that Sambo, Phnom Penh’s much loved resident elephant, is officially in retirement due to health concerns, the question lingering in the air is whether another elephant will replace Sambo at Wat Phnom, where she had become one of the city’s tourist attractions.

Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuk­­­tema said Tuesday that he did not believe there should be another elephant in the city, but he was keeping an open mind on the issue.

“I don’t want to have an elephant in the city,” said Mr. Chuk­tema, noting that among other things, such as the health of having such a large animal in an ur­ban environment, an elephant walk­ing around the city also caused traffic jams.

“We don’t know yet [if] we will bring an elephant or not,” the gov­ernor said. “We are waiting for public opinion; do they need the elephant or not?”

At Wat Phnom, vendors and tuk-tuk drivers said they were feeling the financial impact of Sambo’s absence.

“I used to make [$5 to $7.50] per day…but now I make [$2.50] be­cause it’s not popular for tourists to visit Wat Phnom without an elephant,” said one tuk-tuk driver, Don Saveoun.

Chi Vutha, a vendor, said he now earned about half of what he did selling drinks and food compared to when Sambo was in residence.

“When Sambo is absent here, it decreases the tourists. I want City Hall to bring a new elephant to re­place her,” Mr. Vutha said.

“Wat Phnom is so quiet without Sambo,” said Sray Phim, another ven­dor at the temple.

While those depending on Sam­­bo for sales and rides at Wat Phnom are missing her presence, animal welfare advocates are firm­ly against having any elephant in Phnom Penh.

Louise Rogerson of Ele­phant Asia Rescue and Survival Foun­dation (EARS) said an online campaign petitioning for Sambo’s retirement had garnered 4,165 signatures, which were then forwarded to Mr. Chuk­tema, the Forestry Admini­stra­­tion and the tourism board. That pressure helped en­sure Sambo’s retirement.

“I believe City Hall cares about Sambo’s health after receiving letters and emails of complaint,” Ms. Ro­gerson said in an email. “Pub­lic opinion does not want to see an ele­phant standing in the middle of a roundabout at Wat Phnom.”

“Should another elephant be brought…EARS [and] animal welfare organizations will continue the campaign to ban elephants from the city.”


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