Kampong Speu province
Residents of Mon village in Kampong Speu and wildlife experts urged government action as a five-tonne elephant continued to terrorize the area after trampling its owner to death on Friday.
The domesticated elephant, named Sambo, fled the village last week and took refuge in a nearby bamboo forest, leaving residents and local officials in a quandary over what to do with the beast, which villagers say has killed three other people.
Yim Neoun, the wife of the dead owner, said she had no idea why the elephant had attacked her husband and that villagers were terrified of it.
Jack Highwood, head of the NGO Elephants Livelihood Initiative Environment who runs an elephant sanctuary in Mondulkiri province, said Sambo posed a genuine threat to villagers’ safety and property during a visit to the area to assess the status of the elephant.
He said Sambo has been on a rampage through the area and that villagers had responded by shooting fireworks, throwing rocks and chasing it with sticks and knives in an attempt to keep it from damaging their property.
“This is an insane situation. There are 300 or more villagers scattered around the elephant in all directions, and the elephant is actively hunting them,” he said.
“He knows his territory and knows how to find people, and he can run about 50 metres in seconds. This is a nightmare. He wants to kill people.”
Geoffroy de Gentile Duquesne, a former professional hunter in Africa who now runs an ecotourism company in Cambodia, said Sambo was extremely dangerous and unpredictable.
“In the more than 22 years I’ve been working with elephants, I’ve never seen an elephant behave that way.”
Highwood said the elephant was far too dangerous at the moment to take to his sanctuary in Mondulkiri, as was originally planned, because its unpredictable behaviour would make it too difficult to rehabilitate.
He added that only one official from the Forest Administration had visited the village to assess the situation since Sambo killed its owner on December 3.
“The animal is more and more dangerous every day. Unfortunately we can’t take it to our elephant sanctuary and it is too dangerous at the moment to bring to Phnom Tamao Zoo,” he said.
“It’s a threat to other elephants and people, and it’s learning to hunt, hide and kill people. We will be happy to tranquilise it, chain it to a tree and rehabilitate it, but we cannot take it to Mondulkiri.”
Hundreds of villagers surrounded the elephant yesterday, while three police officers on the scene tried to keep people out of its destructive path.
"Police there do not have the resources to control the situation. They tried to do a good job but just did not have enough people,” said Highwood.
Three expert mahouts joined Highwood and Khun Diyon, director of the elephant conservation organisation in Mondulkiri, including Churl Plouck the head mahout, Churl Norm, who specialises in aggressive male elephants, and Chrab Cheam who also works on the sanctuary.
Highwood said the rate at which the elephant’s aggressive behaviour is accelerating requires immediate government action to prevent it from injuring or killing residents and curbing the destruction it has already wrought on local rice fields and farms.
“If the Forestry Administration doesn’t do something soon, someone will kill it in self defence, or kill it for pleasure.”