For almost 900 years there were elephants at Angkor and in November 2019 the owners of the herd along with key stakeholders in the tourism industry made the incredible decision to stop elephant rides at Angkor and retire the herd, moving them to a place of safety.
Now living in 1100 acres of protected forest in the foothills of Kulen Mountain, the last elephants of Angkor can roam free and socialize unburdened and it was an absolute privilege to meet some of them and spend an afternoon learning about their care and what we can do to ensure the survival of their species.
I think it’s important to understand that the longstanding historical and religious interrelationship between elephants and many Asian cultures is not relatable to many of us from the west. We simply do not have the same spiritual and religious connection to another species within in our own cultures.
David and I understand though that, the desire to release elephants into the wild comes from a compassionate position. But is clear that the vast majority of captive elephants cannot currently just be set free from tourism, nor can they be returned to the wild. In reality, Asian elephant numbers in the wild are in decline (and the reason they are on the endangered list). Poaching is rampant; their natural habitats have been encroached on or destroyed and returning all captive elephants to the wild would be a death sentence.
Successful captive elephant management on the other hand, supports breeding programs, educates the masses, facilitates research into disease eradication, and provides jobs and opportunities for impoverished communities who may otherwise face poverty (and in turn then start the cycle of using captive elephants again to make money).
It is critical that we protect and conserve to the best of our abilities the individual animals that we have right now. And that means supporting sanctuaries that continue to ensure sustainable and ethical elephant welfare.
Thank you to Kulen Elephant Forest and Leanne (the sanctuary manager) for taking time out of her busy schedule to teach us about these incredible animals, their care and how we can all help to ensure their survival… this experience was was one that David and I will remember for the rest of our lives!
For those of you who would like to contribute to the herd’s care (it costs $1000 a month for food, supplements and medical supplies for one of these incredible creatures) you can visit https://kulenforest.asia/donations.html – in the current economic climate due to covid, every little bit helps
Additional source https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/the-truth-about-asias-elephant-tourism/