Cambodia’s oldest elephant, Sambo, dies aged 63

Cambodia’s oldest elephant, Sambo, died on 19 October 2023, and the country is in mourming. 

She was the oldest elephant in Cambodia, aged 63, and survived the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s. When the Khmer Rouge took power, Sambo’s owner Sin Sorn had to hand her over to the Khmer Rouge authorities, with five other elephants. They all died in the poor living conditions, with Sambo the only survivor.

Sin Sorn and Sambo reunited at the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 – she was in the mountains and very weak. 

She served the local tourism industry at the Wat Phnom site in Phnom Penh from 1980 until 2012, when she got a foot infection. She retired from active duty in 2014. 

In 2014, the American government, through its foreign aid department, USAID, helped move Sambo from Phnom Penh to her retirement home in Mondulkiri, where she spent her remaining nine years surrounded by the lush green forests she loved.

Sadly, the Elephant Valley Project  (EVP) have reported that Sambo passed away at home in Mondulkiri province. She had a persistent tooth infection and her health deteriorated.

Cambodia has about 400 wild Asian Elephants, mostly living in the Cardamom Mountains and in the Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri provinces. Sambo was one of about 70 domesticated elephants in Cambodia. Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus) are listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Location of photographs: The Star, Cambodia

Photographer: Martina Nicolls 


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