One of Asia's most famous tourist attractions is taking a major stand for animals.
Following pressure from animal activist groups, Apsara, the management authority for theAngkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap, Cambodia announced in June 2019 it would banelephant rides in early 2020.
Now, the process has already begun.
Local outlet the Khmer Times reports that on November 15, two of the 14 elephants currentlyat the park, site of the famed Angkor Wat temple, have been relocated to the nearby Bos Thomcommunity forest.
Long Kosal, an Apsara press representative, told the Khmer Times that the remaining dozenanimals would be relocated to the same forest by "early next year."
"The elephant is a big animal, but it is also gentle and we don't want to see the animals beingused for tourism activities anymore," Kosal said. "We want them to live in their naturalsurroundings."
In 2016, an elephant named Sambo died at Angkor, drawing worldwide attention. Her deathwas blamed on a combination of heat stroke and exhaustion from ferrying so many humanbeings around.
Two years later, the World Wildlife Fund published an in-depth look at the dwindling populationsof the Asian elephant, noting that the species' population had declined by 50% in just threegenerations.
According to Angkor Enterprise, which manages park admissions, the UNESCO-listed site isfacing a decline in tourist numbers.
Its latest report says 1.8 million foreign tourists bought passes to the temple complex fromJanuary to September -- a 13.7% decline over the same 10-month period in 2018.
While there's no predicting whether Cambodia's ban on Angkor elephant rides will impactvisitor numbers, it comes at a time when more and more travelers and tourism organizationsaround the world have moved to eliminate animal-related attractions.
Most recently, TripAdvisor -- one of the world's biggest travel listings and bookings sites -- announced that it would not sell tickets to any sites that breed whales or dolphins in captivity, such as the theme park SeaWorld in the US.