The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom’s foreign tourists — which topped six million in 2018 — and many opt for elephants rides around the ancient temples.

Cambodia will ban all elephant rides at the country’s famed Angkor temple park by early next year, an official said Friday, a rare win for conservationists who have long decried the popular practise as cruel. Now, the process has already begun. Local outlet the Khmer Times reports that on November 15, two of the 14 elephants currently at the park, site of the famed Angkor Wat temple, have been relocated to the nearby Bos Thom community forest.

In 2016, an elephant named Sambo died at Angkor, drawing worldwide attention. Her death was blamed on a combination of heatstroke and exhaustion from ferrying so many human beings around. Two years later, the World Wildlife Fund published an in-depth look at the dwindling populations of the Asian elephant, noting that the species’ population had declined by 50% in just three generations.

According to Angkor Enterprise, which manages park admissions, the UNESCO-listed site is facing a decline in tourist numbers. Its latest report says 1.8 million foreign tourists bought passes to the temple complex from January 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 impact visitor numbers, it comes at a time when more and more travellers and tourism organisations around the world have moved to eliminate animal-related attractions.