Elephant tramples owner to death and destroys six houses in Cambodia

A renegade elephant reportedly killed its owner and destroyed six houses after tourists asked it to be released from its chains for a photo.

The animal, named Atork, was later shot dead by officials, after failed attempts to keep it away from a village in the Cambodian jungle.

Authorities had planned to tranquillize and capture Atork, but his aggression and the slow response of wildlife officials meant he was killed.

The incident began on Thursday, when the elephant’s owner, Choeung Team, 47, released him from his shackles at the request of a tourist group he was guiding in Sen Monorom, in the eastern Mondulkiri province.

The elephant walked off while the tourists were preparing food and Mr Team followed it.

The animal had apparently always been of mild temperament but experts believe he was on heat, known in elephants as musth. The condition stems from high levels of reproductive hormones and is characterised by aggressive behaviour.

“The owner was killed by his elephant when it was in rut,” Police officer Norng Chanthea told the Phnom Penh Post.

Mr Team’s nephew, Saroeun Naro, 37, told the newspaper: “Atork used his trunk to beat him and trampled on him. I do not know why it was angry with my uncle.”

Villagers chased the elephant into the forest, using fireworks to scare him off, and an operation was launched to capture it. Vets from the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre planned to tranquillize the elephant.

But the animal later returned from the forest and began to cause mayhem in the village.

“He smashed down six houses and was completely uncontrollable,” said Jemma Bullock of the Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment, which attempted to help the villagers.

She told the Cambodia Daily: “Police and a fire truck came to help, and were firing warning shots and trying to scare him back to the forest. But when he kept attacking the house one police officer fired on his leg to stop him.”

The animal later died.

Police Chief Kan Peng of Sen Monorom City said the killing was necessary because the elephant had “killed a human and destroyed property”. He also said the wildlife experts took too long to arrive.

Elephant tours are a popular attraction in Cambodia, particularly in Mondulkiri. More than five million people visited the country last year.

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