Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Elephant Valley Project in Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri province, Cambodia. (March 2011)

A couple of years ago I came in contact with Jack Highwood through the Internet, and finally visited him in Cambodia in March 2011.

Jack grew up on his parents and grandfathers farm in England, and enjoyed working with animals as shepherd in his youth. His mother is a narcotic detector dog trainer. Jack became interested in elephants in Thailand, and worked as translator and administrator of elephant related issues in Surin and later at an elephant trekking camp in Koh Chang. He quit the job in Koh Chang when he felt that the elephants became over exploited and mistreated. 

 In Cambodia Jack founded the the Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment (E.L.I.E) in 2005, with primary goal to improve the health and welfare of domestic elephants in Mondulkiri through a mobile veterinarian program and an indigenous community based organisation program.

Mondulkiri Province in eastern Cambodia mountains, has the largest concentration of the domestic elephants in Cambodia, with  thirty females and twenty-four male elephants present, most of which are old, and have ailments and injuries.

In 2007, Jack Highwood founded the Elephant Valley Project 20 minutes from the Mondulkiri capitol  Sen Monorum, which is 5-7 hours bus trip from Phnom Penh.

The elephant valley is an ecotourism project that provides an alternative approach to elephant care, rehabilitation and conservation, and combines captive elephant rehabilitation with forest protection, and by doing so, reducing the manipulation of the elephants to a minimum. Because of this, theres no ridings, and very limited interaction with elephants.

On the other hand, The elephant valley project provide a chance to observe elephants on short distance when they spend their day almost like a wild elephant would do.

Apart from being chained at night, and being herded to the river for a bath twice a day, the mahouts are just following and observing  them daytime, when they are browsing, and seing to they they dont enter neighbouring farmland. So far, 13 elephants have been bought or rented and kept at the sanctuary, and presently 9 elephants is involved in the project, including a mature bull, Bob. Elephant hooks are generally not used, except for the bull Bob. The elephant valley is open for short time guests and volunteers.

Volunteers work a 5 day week.
  • Learning about the project and the elephants.
  • Learning how to interact with the elephant.
  • Walking the elephants into the forest to forage.
  • Help bathe and cleaning the elephants.
  • Working with the local Bunong staff to improve the living conditions of the elephants.
  • Help to form and build the elephant sanctuary by maintaining banana plantations, doing light construction work, planting seedlings and maintaining pathways.
The combined meeting and dining room in the main complex.

Although remote in forest sourrandings, volounteers and guests stay in comfortable bungalows, labelled as hill tribe traditional Bunong style house with western interior, with electricity and tap water.

The lodges and main complex are located on the slopes of the elephant valley affording stunning views over the surrounding forest where many varieties of birds can be seen from eagles to hornbills.

The prime focus of the sanctuary is to rehabilitate older trekking elephants, and giving them as much possibilities as possible to just be elephants and exhibit natural behaviour, including long baths in the river and mudbathing.

But the project is also securing an alternative income for the mahouts, that previously were involved in different tourist riding operations in the area. Furthermore, the forest is protected against being exploited as farm land.

Its an interesting alternative to captive elephant management in Asia, and well worth visiting and supporting.

During christmas 2011, I returned to Jack in Mondulkiri to see his elephants again.

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