SAMBO, the killer elephant who ran wild in Kampong Speu province before being taken to Phnom Tamao Zoo and Wildlife Rescue Centre last month, has again become highly aggressive in captivity, a display that zoo staff are putting down to sexual frustration.
On December 3, Sambo, a five-decade-old bull elephant, killed his mahout and went on a rampage in Mon village, destroying rice crops and threatening villagers. He was later shot with tranquiliser darts, chained to a log in a rice field adjacent to the village, and eventually transported to Phnom Tamao Zoo on Christmas Day.
However, zoo workers say Sambo has not adapted well to his new environment, and has become increasingly aggressive again after meeting with a prospective female elephant mate, named Srey Pao, who outright refuses to breed with him.
“Sambo has now become stressed again and he is always angry because he has seen the female elephants and he needs sex, but he can’t do so,” said Nhem Thy, the deputy director of Phnom Tamao Zoo, in Takeo province. “He is in a rut now.”
He added that he planned to place Sambo in cohabitation with Srey Pao this week in order for them to breed in the future, but Srey Pao appeared to be scared of Sambo, possibly due to his massive size.
“We planned to put Sambo and Srey Pao together on Monday but we couldn’t do so because Srey Pao was afraid of Sambo.
We are now wondering why Srey Pao was afraid of Sambo and we are also studying her,” Nhem Thy said.
“The elephants have senses that are the same as human senses. I think that the reason why Srey Pao was afraid of Sambo is due to her shyness, because she is an old female elephant.”
Jack Highwood, head of the NGO Elephants Livelihood Initiative Environment who runs the Elephant Valley Project sanctuary in Mondulkiri province, said yesterday that elephants are picky animals who choose their mates carefully.
“Speaking from experience at the Elephant Valley Project, where we have seven elephants, elephants don’t always get along,” he said.
“It’s not about size, it’s about personality.”
Highwood said that while he commended officials’ efforts to find a mate for Sambo, he said the creatures were “like people” with respect to mateship, and that zoo staff shouldn’t try to hurry love.
“If you were to put 10 people in a room who didn’t know each other they won’t all get on,” he said. “Maybe another elephant might get along with him in the future.”
To ease Sambo’s stress, veterinarians have been giving special foods to Srey Pao – including cassava, unripe coconut, sugarcane, grass and bananas – in a bid to increase her libido, and hopefully, her interest in Sambo.
Nhem Ty said that zoo officials are planning to build a new enclosure for the elephant couple, so that they will be more inclined to breed in the future.
He added, however, that if Srey Pao remains fearful of Sambo, the zoo would place him with one of three younger female elephants: Lucky, Chamroeun and Narann.
According to Nhem Thy, there are currently a total of six elephants in Phnom Tamao Zoo, namely, Chhouk, Srey Pao, Lucky, Chamroeun, Narann and now Sambo.
One can only hope that if all else fails, Sambo will get Lucky, at the very least.