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Elephant celebrates her 51st birthday

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Sombo celebrates her official 51st birthday yesterday afternoon at Wat Phnom. Photo by: WESLEY MONTS

PHNOM Penh’s beloved only elephant celebrated her official 51st birthday yesterday with good news.

Talks are progressing well with the municipal government in a bid to find her a permanent home and shelter at Wat Phnom, said Mariam Arthur, CEO of Kmy Films and the administrator of the elephant’s Facebook page.

Visiting Australian teacher Justin Corfield presented elephant keeper Sin Sorn with US$3,500 – enough money to keep her supplied with her favourite carrots, bananas and sugar cane for a year.

He pledged the donation in memory of his late father Robin, who first visited Cambodia in 1963 and had planned to write a book on Angkor.

However, it turns out the Western media have been getting the elephant’s name wrong for years. It’s Sombo, not Sambo, said Song Vanthet, who has written her life story in a booklet sold to visitors for $1.

Sombo has given rides to tourists since 1982 at Wat Phnom, her distinctive speckled ears and trunk being photographed by visitors from around the globe.

Her story gained worldwide exposure after she was separated from her keeper for three years during the Khmer Rouge rule and reunited after exile in Pursat province.

Sin Sorn was sent to Battambang during the regime and only reunited with his beloved elephant when he heard she was safe after the war.

Her new owner returned the elephant to his care – the only one of five family elephants to survive.

Justin Corfield, who is in Cambodia on a school trip with nine students from Geelong Grammar in Australia, said he decided to pay for Sombo’s annual food bill because his late father loved animals and the Kingdom. He also shares his own birthday with the pachyderm.

While here, he and his students will help build homes for Habitat for Humanity in Udong.

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