In Cambodia, tourism has been rising in recent years to the detriment of the local way of life.
Usually, on these excursions, tourists rarely think about the communities they are encroaching on or how they affect local people’s lives. Tourists don’t think about the ways they have personally altered communities, whether for better or worse.
Specifically in the rural province of Mondulkiri, the livelihoods of the indigenous Bunong people are being threatened by elephant tourism.
The Bunong people have had an extremely close relationship with elephants for centuries. Their communities revolved around them, for they were farm animals, transportation and most importantly, their prosperity, according to Phnom Penh Post, an independent newspaper in Cambodia.
But this relationship became one of the victims of the bombing of Eastern Cambodia by the United States during the Vietnam War. In the covert Operation Menu, the U.S. dropped 110,000 tons of bombs on Eastern Cambodia. This campaign targeted elephants used as convoys by The Viet Minh, reducing population by the thousands, according to the History channel website.
After the war, the Bunong people just didn’t have enough elephants left to go around to continue their way of life, and the elephant population never recovered. There are now only 75 captive elephants in Cambodia and only 50 live in the Mondulkiri Province, according to the Mondulkiri Project, an organization that works with the Bunong people in trying to preserve the local environment.
The Bunong have had to adapt to this situation. They continued to work these last few elephants but not on farms. Instead, they have catered to a new industry.
According to the New York Times, tourism was booming in Cambodia in the early 2000s and people came from far and wide to see these last remaining creatures, and the Bunong obliged.
In all honesty, they really didn’t have a choice. As one of the poorest nations on Earth, Cambodia had to do whatever it took to survive, so they catered to tourism. Catering to tourists is a way to keep their economy from completely crumbling under to their feet.
This has resulted in current atrocities of abuse and inhumane treatment of the elephants by the natives. Abuse is prominent in these communities, where elephants are overworked, constantly under stress and don’t receive proper medical treatment.
Currently, there are a lot of petitions against elephant riding and abuse. People are beginning to condemn the actions of the tourism industries in Cambodia and other nations in Southeast Asia.
But honestly, these people don’t deserve the blame. These indigenous people are only doing what they need to survive. It was Americans who decimated the elephant population in the 1970s and it was Americans in the 2000s and onward who wanted these elephant rides and shows. This behavior only culminated because of tourists’ desires, their desires for something new and exciting.
While tourists shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to explore the world or to experience a new culture or a new place, they need to think more about their impact on a community when they travel to it.
Tourism has been an integral part of our global community for ages. It has allowed people to explore and find themselves in unfamiliar places while voyaging into new cultures and activities. Tourists don’t have to feel guilty for wanting to explore the world. However, it’s time people give more consideration to the negative effects of tourism.