In a country like Thailand you will find many places where elephants are taken care of. The most important question we ask is to what extent these elephants are treated well. A rightful question and one that I have also been busy with during my world trip. Every now and then pictures come out that elephants are not always treated properly after closing time.
But how do you know if a shelter has a good reputation? You can read reviews on the internet or simply take the advice of a hostel or hotel. Through the facebook group Inside Cambodia I ended up at the Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri, in the east of the country. I decided to stay for two days and I liked that very much.
This article is based on my own experience. It is not my goal to advertise, but to show why I was very satisfied with this project.
The Elephant Valley Project: What about it?
The Elephant Valley Project is located in the woods near the town of Sen Monorom. In 2006 the English Jack Highwood founded the ELIE project. ELIE stands for Elephants, Livelihood, Initiative, Environment. It is a collaborative project with the local Bunong population. Agreements have been made with owners of elephants to let the elephants live here their last years in exchange for food and medicine.
At this moment the Elephant Valley Project has borrowed 10 elephants. All elephants have a sad history of hard work or transporting tourists on their backs. Elephants with a trauma so…
The goal is to let every elephant be an elephant again. But that is easier said than done. That’s why each elephant has a mahout, an elephant caretaker, who helps the elephant every day of the week (with washing). To get a short impression of the suffering of the elephants: here is a short story about Sambo.
Fact: The Asian elephant is smaller than the African elephant.
The lovely Sambo
Sambo is the most famous elephant of the 10. For more than 30 years she has transported tourists and children on her back in Phnom Penh. But in 2012 the owner decided to retire Sambo. In 2014 she ended up in Mondulkiri at the Elephant Valley Project. When I was in the park in January 2018, Sambo was suffering from a foot infection, because she had been standing in a big nail in Phnom Penh.
Twice a day she has to stand in a bath for 20 minutes to fight the infection. Quite a task and only possible if you feed an elephant a lot. Because that’s what an elephant does: eat a lot and sleep a bit. But when friend Ruby arrived, she wanted to go to her. And she did. A beautiful moment to see.
The Elephant Valley Project based on research
Okay, now you know what the project is and why the elephants are here. But why should the Elephant Valley Project be a serious option?
As I said, elephants in the wild is the most beautiful thing there is, isn’t it? I also doubted whether I should do it at all. Still, based on advice online and via the facebook group Inside Cambodia, I decided to apply. You can’t really give an opinion until you’ve seen it for yourself, can you? And of course you have to have a good feeling about it beforehand….
Fact: an elephant eats 160 kilos of food per day.
But why choose the Elephant Valley Project?
On the instagram I came across several pictures of people who swim with elephants or cuddle them in a certain way. It looks beautiful and the elephants seem to be enjoying themselves as well. But is that really true? They are big animals that can seriously injure a person in an instant. And in order not to let that happen, elephants need to know that they are not allowed to do that. If they don’t do that on their own, or if they are beaten, they know they shouldn’t do it. Tell me?
The Elephant Valley Project doesn’t allow you to swim with elephants. Fortunately, you are not allowed to take rides on them and certainly not to touch them at all. And you can’t feed them either. But what are you allowed to do?
The answer is simple: the elephants come out with their mahouts and all you do is follow them, see what they do and how they eat. Because they do the latter 80% of the day. That may not sound attractive, but I assure you… It is. Because you can look at those beautiful animals for hours, can’t you? In any case, I can.
What do you contribute?
It is possible to walk 1 day at the Elephant Valley Project, but it is also possible to walk 2 days. Or even a whole week. I turned out to be the only one for two days at the project, the rest only half a day or 1 day. Also fine of course! In the evening it soon became clear that there were enough volunteers present for a whole week, or several weeks.
For a stay of 2 or more days you will also do an afternoon of volunteering. Okay, my contribution consisted of watering plants for the elephants and other small jobs. But the stories you exchange with other volunteers I found incredibly interesting. And then you take the work for granted, don’t you?
Is there any criticism?
I wouldn’t be realistic if I just wrote a positive story. Because you can be critical about anything, right? In the Elephant Valley Project, the critical note is as follows…
The mahouts work every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. After that the elephants are alone and a loose elephant is unreliable. A few years ago a few elephants ate part of a farmer’s harvest. The total cost was thousands of euros. And of course nobody was happy with this…
How did they solve that problem at the Elephant Valley Project? Every evening the elephants are put on a chain of 25 meters. Not a nice solution, but which solution is better? A good question and I do not doubt the intentions of the project. Yet this solution sounds quite heavy. Nevertheless, they are never alone. Another solution could be a fence. But even then they are trapped, aren’t they?
Final word about the Elephant Valley Project
The only elephant project I visited in Asia was the Elephant Valley Project. And personally I think this is the only project I will ever have visited in my life. When I was later in Kui Buri National Park in Thailand and in Udawalale National Park in Sri Lanka I became really happy with elephants with freedom.
But I can’t and won’t judge all the projects that are going on in Asia. There will undoubtedly be shelters that do have the best interests of the elephants at heart. But there are also those who prefer to make money and have the real care for elephants in second place.
If you decide to visit a sanctuary, try to find out which centres have positive comments via reviews. A final remark about the Elephant Valley Project. In terms of price, this may be one of the more expensive shelters in Asia, but when the vision and ideas are good it doesn’t matter much.
Visit the Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri?
Would you like to join the project for half a day, a day, two days or more? On the website below you can make a reservation, but do so well in advance (two weeks or more in advance). Instructions you will get by mail, but collecting is done in the Hefalump Cafe.
It is only possible to see the elephants from Monday to Friday. In the weekend they have a nice and quiet time….
The town of Sen Monorom is located in the east of Cambodia, about 6 hours by bus from Phnom Penh.
Hotel: In Sen Monorom I stayed in Chantha Sreypich Guesthouse. Basic, but fine for 5 dollars a night.
Read more about Cambodia?
- Preah Vihear Temple, Cambodia | A visit to the Temple of Conflict
- Visit the grave of Pol Pot | Anlong Veng, Cambodia
What did you think of the Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri? Feel free to leave a message below!