An elephant in Mondulkiri died from apparent malnutrition on Saturday after being shackled for over 20 days because it was in musth, a naturally occurring periodic hormone surge.
The male elephant, named Boek Ku, 35, died Saturday afternoon in Romanea commune's Putang village near Sen Monorom. It had passed out as a result of a lack of food, according to commune Police Chief Pich Sotheary.
Sotheary said the elephant was in musth – a condition in which testosterone levels spike and elephants can become aggressive – and ran away from his owner Choch Cehl on March 26, destroying crops.
Forestry administration (FA) officials worked with Wildlife Alliance to sedate the elephant the next day to shackle it.
“It was shackled until the 21st without enough food and water, and it fell ill and died,” he said. “Some food was provided as well, but they did not take care of it.”
He said a death last year of a mahout trampled by an elephant had made the owner fearful. In that case, the elephant was subsequently shot dead by authorities. “He was scared of the elephant,” he said.
Sotheary added that after the death, the owner and relatives gathered and performed a traditional elephant burial in the forest.
Villager Rom Thet said the owner had been feeding the elephant with banana trees, but that it had not eaten much. He added that the elephant had also been used as a tourist attraction, including giving rides to visitors.
Try Sitheng, head of the animal care section at Phnom Tamao Zoo’s Wildlife Rescue Centre, said that Forestry Administration officials, in cooperation with Wildlife Alliance, had anaesthetised the elephant in order to shackle it to a tree.
He said that an elephant needs over 100 litres of drinking water per day, in addition to water for bathing and playing.
“The death is 100 percent due to a lack of care. Lack of water and food in the dry season would cause its death,” he said.
“If there had been a problem caused by the anaesthesia, it should have happened on that day or a day after it only.”
Ngin Sovimean, head of the Mondulkiri provincial Tourism Department, said that about 10 elephants in Putang village give rides to tourists, though currently owners prefer to let tourists watch, bathe and feed the elephants instead.