|Look! She's floating!|
Have you ever wanted to see elephants in the wild? Not chained or caged up, but actually behaving like elephants should? Me too! Well, if it's your dream to walk with elephants, then The Elephant Valley project, based in Sen Monoron, is somewhere you might be interested in visiting.
The NGO - E.L.I.E ( Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment) was the dream of a Brit named Jack Highwood. After working closely with elephants in Thailand and learning the techniques of a Mahout (ma hoot), an elephant keeper, he found his calling in eastern Cambodia. The elephant population in Cambodia was quickly diminishing as the elephants were worked to death either from heavy labor or from constant tourism (elephant ridding). Jack recognized this and decided to do something about it. He created his NGO and pushed to have it registered with the Cambodian government, realizing his vision in 2006.
"E.L.I.E.’s primary goal is to improve the health and welfare of domestic elephants in Mondulkiri Province. The secondary goal is to work with the people and the problems that face them." -elephantvalleyproject.org
In 2007, The Elephant Valley Project was created in conjunction with E.L.I.E. As the domestic population of elephants aged and began to die, they were not being allowed to reproduce. This was creating an obviously tragic situation. Instead of traveling from village to village to look after and give medical care to the elephants, Jack and his team decided they should bring the elephants to them.
"Elephants are able to generate a large income for the impoverished indigenous peoples, but in many cases the elephants are not receiving proper care. E.L.I.E. has seen elephants that are dehydrated, emaciated, over-worked, abused, and some that should clearly be retired but are forced to continue to work because of the large income they create. Since the creation of the E.V.P, we’ve been able to bring the elephants used in logging, hunting, and tourism, out of villages where there are bad working conditions, and employ the mahouts, their families, and the elephants at the project, which allows the elephants time to rest, recuperate, and escape human activity." -elephantvalleyproject.org
And that's just what E.V.P. did! When we arrived at the project we made our way down into a lush valley appropriate nicknamed "elephant heaven". Before long the gentle giants emerged from the thickets of bamboo chomping happily away, just the way an elephant should. During the day they are free to roam around, to forge and socializing with the other elephants. Although the project's current 9 elephants are not technically wild, this is the next best thing to re-introduction to the wilderness. Since the elephants have been domesticated and have no fear of people we were able to walk beside them, touch them and even help to bathe them in the river!
E.V.P has short and long term volunteer opportunities available, a better moral option to taking an elephant ride or trek. Of course, all of the proceeds go to the continuation and growth of E.L.I.E. We spent the rest of the afternoon doing some work around the camp, pulling invasive weeds and assisting in the expanding construction of the project.
I won't say too much more about the project because you can find heaps of info already on the website and on the project facebook page. What a great way to experience the World's largest land mammal, combining Eco-tourism with the conservation and welfare of these amazingly burdened animals! Way to go Jack and the rest of the team!