Cambodian officials announce that they are banning elephant rides at the country’s infamous Angkor temple park. 

Millions of tourists visit Siem Reap annually to explore the Angkor archaeological complex which is home to numerous ancient temples built between the 9th and 15th centuries.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the park spans 400 square kilometers and many visitors opt to ride one of the attraction’s 14 elephants, instead of walking, as they take in the spectacular architecture. The elephants have also been trained to put on performances for tourists.

The park has been widely criticised over the years as many of the animals being used are old or unhealthy. Animal rights activist groups have accused handlers of overworking the elephants and encouraged officials to stop using them for tourists’ entertainment.

Their efforts paid off as news of a ban was confirmed on November 15. It will come into place early next year, The Straits Timesreports.

A spokesperson for the Apsara Authority, which manages the park, admitted some of the animals were ‘already old’ and that ‘using elephants for business is not appropriate anymore’.

The company that owns the elephants will continue to care for them, though the animals are being moved from the park to a community forest about 25 miles (40 kilometres) away.

The spokesperson added:

They will live out their natural lives there.

So far, five of the 14 working animals have been moved and the rest will be gradually moved over the next couple of months.

The rides will officially ‘end by the start of 2020’

The ban comes three years after an elephant collapsed and died at the park while carrying two tourists.

At the time, the Independent reported a veterinarian examined the elephant and determined it died ‘due to high temperatures, heat exhaustion and lack of wind that would have helped to cool her’.

Another working elephant died at the attraction last year, after which a petition to end the elephant rides gained over 14,000 signatures.