Score one for the animal rights activists: according to reports, Cambodia will no longer allow elephant rides at Angkor Wat, starting in 2020. 

Visitor riding an elephant in front of Angkor Wat
By early 2020, elephant rides will no longer be allowed at Angkor Wat. Image © GuoZhongHua/Shutterstock

According to the Associated Press, a private company has been offering elephant rides at the UNESCO World Heritage site since 2001, but after one animal died transporting a tourist in 2016, the practice has been decried as cruel and unnecessary. A petition was circulated, imploring the tourism industry to end “this horrific practice,” and last week, the government agency that manages the Siem Reap temple complex finally complied, announcing that the animals would be moved offsite by early next year. 

"Using elephants for business is not appropriate anymore," Apsara Authority spokesman Long Kosal told Agence France-Presse. Of the 14 working elephants at the site, some of whom are old and infirm, five have already been moved to their new home in a community forest some 40 kilometres away, and the remaining elephants should be situated by early next year. "They will live out their natural lives there," Kosal said.

Angkor Wat temple at sunset
So far this year, nearly two million foreign tourists have purchased tickets to the temple complex. Image © Danny Iacob/500px

This development comes on the heels of a broader movement to encourage responsible wildlife tourism. Last month, Airbnb introduced a collection of heavily vetted ethical experiences to help conscientious travellers interact with animals in a responsible fashion, while TripAdvisor stopped selling tickets for attractions that breed or buy whales, dolphins, and other cetaceans. 

Tangle of roots (from a Tetrameles nudiflora) growing over the ruins of Ta Prohm Temple.
Angkor Wat was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. Image © Paul Biris/Getty Images

As for this particular move, it’s not a total win. The elephants will remain in the care of the same company, and as the AP reports, they’ll no longer be available for rides – though they will be trained to put on performances for visitors. For now, though, it’s a start. “There is no such thing as cruelty-free elephant rides,” the petition stated. “Tourists may think that riding an elephant on holiday does not cause harm - you often can't see the cruelty - it's hidden from view. What you don’t realise is that a ‘once in a lifetime’ or 'bucket list' item for you, means a lifetime of misery for wild animals.”

Read more: 

Chang Chill, an observation-only, truly elephant-friendly camp has opened in Thailand
The 'Place of Elephants': why Gonarezhou National Park is Zimbabwe's rising star
Safari animals: the story of elephants (and the best places to see them)

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