"We had a little time to wait but spent it chatting, and soon the mahout arrived and told us the elephants were in an area a little further away. We followed him, to find two female elephants eating their way through some felled banana trees further down the waterway. These elephants have been retired from a lifetime of work and now enjoy the freedom to roam freely within the sanctuary. They were not shackled in any way and later we walked with them further down stream to a swimming hole. The mahouts controlled them with grunts, which Walking the elephants down to the water.they responded too."
The Elephant Valley Project is based 11 kilometers from the town of Sen Monorom, the capital of in Mondulkiri. It's near the border of Vietnam. It is approximately 6 hours travel from Phnom Penh and about 12 Hours travel from Siem Riep.
The area is surrounded by forest and grassland dedicated to the conservation and welfare of the elephants of Mondulkiri. This location is ideal for the rehabilitation of the elephants. It's certainly unique to Cambodia and is one of only a handful of elephant sanctuaries in the world.
Sen Monorom (and the Mondulkiri province in general) is inhabited by the indigenous Pnong people.
Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environmentís (E.L.I.E) 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.
E.L.I.E now runs a number of projects in Mondulkiri to help achieve our goals, including an elephant research and monitoring program, mobile veterinarian program and an indigenous community based organization program. Not forgetting of course our Elephant Valley Project,
an ecotourism project that provides an alternative approach to elephant care, rehabilitation and conservation.
The Project rents the land from the local Pnong minority people, providing them employment within the project and other related means of income generation activities. Using their land for the Project site contributes to protecting it from destruction,
while allowing the local people to continue their cultural ties to the forest and maintain their traditional agricultural practices and lifestyle.
The Project also runs a forest programme, undertaking activities including seed collection, reforestation and education of the local people on conservation and alternative options to cutting down the forest.
The local people who bring their elephants here are paid a competitive working wage to retire their elephants full time to ecotourism. The locals continue to work with their elephants, feeding and caring for them and making sure they donít escape into the wild.
The elephants, for their part, can spend their days blasting through the forest in search of food, uprooting saplings to get to their yummy roots and hanging out by the river spraying mud on one another.
You are not allowed to ride the elephants here. Instead, you simply walk through the forest with them and observe them in their element. In the process you learn a lot about not only elephant behaviour but also Bunong culture and forest ecology. Other project components include health care for Pnong communities in the project area, and health and veterinary care for the mahouts of Mondulkiri.
Access to the sight is tightly controlled so donít show up unannounced (there are free-range elephants wandering around after all). It's popular so book well in advance. The maximum amount of day trippers allowed per day is 12.
Touroperators can handle bookings in Sen Monorom.
In a visit of one day to the Elephant Valley Project is both exciting and meaningful. Everyone is assigned their own elephant and will work closely with the mahouts (elephant handlers) who always accompany the elephants. Spending time with the mahouts gives you a chance to chat to them, share language and give something back.
In the mornings you will be able to walk with the elephants and learn about their fascinating past and current rehabilitation process. In the afternoon, pitch in with some hands on volunteering work such as gardening, farming, construction, cleaning and sweeping.
Those wishing to experience more than a day with the elephants can stay at the simple but comfortable accommodations at the Project site. Upon arrival you will be appointed to a secluded self-contained jungle lodge built in the traditional Pnong (local minority tribe) style.