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Subdued Sambo headed for the zoo

AUTHORITIES are hoping for a fairytale ending to the story of Sambo, the violent bull elephant that has wreaked havoc on villagers in Kampong Speu province over the past two weeks, who will be taken to Phnom Tamao Zoo and possibly paired with a fiery female companion.

Sambo, who is about 50 years old, killed his owner on December 3 and ran amok, chasing locals and destroying their crops in Mon village, until he was tranquilised  and restrained on Wednesday night.

Cheng Kimsun, director of the Forestry Administration, said yesterday that the aggressive elephant would be sent for “re-education” at Phnom Tamao Zoo in Takeo province in about a week.

He said the Forestry Administration decided yesterday that Sambo would not be killed, even if he were to turn violent again.

“According to our animal experts, Sambo has almost human-like senses,” he said.

“He can understand people’s behaviours and their activities. The reason why he became so cruel was because he was tortured by his owner and was also violated and disturbed by people.”

He said officials hoped that conditions at the zoo would help rehabilitate the elephant.

“Sambo is not crazy but he has lived a very stressful life because he had been mistreated for so many years,” he said.

“He was chained down, he could not go anywhere and he also had no wife – he needs his freedom.”

Marriage plans?
Nhek Ratanapich, the director of Phnom Tamao Zoo, said Sambo’s new living place would possibly be situated near a 45-year-old female elephant named Srey Pao, who he said is similarly aggressive.

“We want to put Sambo together with Srey Pao in our zoo but we are afraid that they will not like each other because they didn’t know each other before,” he said.

“So now we are thinking that first we will just put Sambo in an enclosure nearby Srey Pao, and after they get to know each other well enough we will marry them and put them together in their own enclosure.”

He said he hoped the company would help to calm Sambo.

“I hope that after Sambo stays with Srey Pao he will be happy, his stress will be released and his mental condition will improve in the future, and finally, he can be a nice elephant again,” he said.

Experts agreed yesterday that it would be wise to wait before making any attempts to intergrate Sambo with other elephants.

Jack Highwood, of the Elephants Livelihood Initiative Environment, said Sambo was not ready for company.

“I think that while it is very important the FA gives Sambo a proper welcome to Phnom Tamao Zoo, I think he needs time to calm down and the staff there needs to study him further,” he said.

“Integrating him with other elephants is very important, but from what I have observed from this elephant, putting him in contact with other elephants is not advised at the moment ­– but is certainly possible in the future.”

Nick Marx, wildlife rescue director at international conservation group Wildlife Alliance, said that mating elephants is a step-by-step process.

“We have some wonderful elephants for him to mate with but we can’t say whether or not we will integrate him,” he said.

“He’s been well behaved for the better part of his life and we will have to wait and see if he reverts back to that gentler part of his life.”

He also noted that it was important to consider the interests of Sambo’s potential mates.

“This is a huge elephant and the girls aren’t as big – he could do great damage to them and we wouldn’t want to compromise them,” he said.

He added: “Of course, baby elephants would be wonderful and even though it’s too far in the future, it’s what we all hope for secretly.”

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