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S.O.S. Save Our Sambo

By: Soma Norodom's Blog Posted: November-16-2010 in
Soma Norodom's Blog

Sambo, the only elephant to survive the Khmer Rouge Regime, has become a symbol of the city. Sambo has survived the “Killing Fields” and this past January, Sambo turned 50 years old. Sambo is the heart and soul of Wat Phnom, and now Sambo has another challenge to face….finding a home.

Sambo was born in 1960 in Oral district, Kampong Speu province, Cambodia, into an elephant family that roamed freely and was considered wild. Like most of her relatives in the pachyderm world, Sambo never knew her father. When she was young she was one of hundreds of elephants that roamed freely through the scrub and woodland. She saw some males roaming around but her mother never told her which one was her father. Her fate as a female was to stay with her sisters, cousins and aunts. But that wasn’t to be her destiny.

When Sambo was only eight years old, two humans came and took her away from her home. They tied her legs together and the ropes cut into the legs. At the village, Sambo met a 3 year old boy named Sorn. Sorn would bring Sambo food every day, and the two became friends. The friendship lasted for 10 years.

In 1977, Cambodia collapsed and fell into the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Six soldiers came to Sambo’s village with guns and big hammers in their hands, and forced Sorn and his father to give up their things, and the elephant. One day several Khmer Rouge soldiers were walking with Sorn and they fired their rifles and several elephants fell to the ground. The soldiers chopped the bodies with machetes and ate them. Then they came for Sambo.

A soldier, his face deformed with rage, started hitting Sambo with a hammer, until the soldier’s commander ordered the soldier to stop. “Don’t kill her! She’s too young. Let me take care of her,” said the commander. The commander chained Sambo to a tree and left her a little food and water, but did save her life. Sorn was working in a field not far from Sambo, and cried every time he looked at the elephant. Weeks passed and all the people from the village were taken away by the soldiers, including Sorn.

Sambo and the Khmer Rouge soldiers walked for several days through the mountains. They didn’t stop to rest and eat until they reached Kravanh mountain in Pursat. On their way to Pursat, Sambo witnessed humans dying, people who were little more than skin and bone, and dead bodies piled along the road. But, Sambo lived to see the day when the Khmer Rouge was driven from the country in 1979.

A couple of months later Sambo reunited with her friend, Sorn. It was a joyous occasion, and both moved back to the city of Phnom Penh. Now, Sambo wakes up every morning at 5 and walks to Wat Phnom, where she earns money by giving rides. Sambo currently lives on the vacant property between NagaWorld and Imperial Gardens. She was evicted from her previous home next to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Currently, Sambo does not have a permanent residence. Mariam Arthur, Activist, has been petitioning the Royal Government to give Sambo a permanent home.

“It has been the tradition of the Royal Palace to keep elephants since it was built. I believe it is time to restore this part of Khmer culture by initiating the process to make the Royal Palace the permanent home of Sambo the elephant. I humbly ask for your assistance”, stated Mariam Arthur. “I believe that the only place Sambo can live in peace, receive daily exercise to Wat Phnom and bring enjoyment to people in Phnom Penh, is for her to take up residence within the grounds of the Royal Palace. Constant moving of her living space is not good for her health.”

The letter will be sent to the Assistant of His Royal Highness, King Norodom Sihamoni. We hope Sambo finds a permanent home, and lives peacefully in the city where she belongs.

Soma Norodom's Blog


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