Original elephant adventures with Cambodia’s EVP.
Gee Nowl, one of the EVP elephants
For an original elephant experience, visit the Elephant Valley Project. The project entices local mahouts to bring their over-worked or injured elephants to this sanctuary, where, in the words of project coordinator, Jack Highwood, ‘they can learn how to act like elephants again.’ A Briton with a contagious passion for elephants, Highwood is on a mission to improve the lot of Mondulkiri’s working elephants. While Bunong tradition calls for giving elephants a certain amount of down time, Highwood says that economic incentives to overwork elephants prove too great for the impoverished mahouts of Mondulkiri. In addition to toting tourists around on their backs, elephants are hired to haul around anything and everything, including illegally cut timber. Most tour companies in Mondulkiri stress that their tours employ only humanely treated elephants. Highwood commends this, but says it’s the exception rather than the rule. “Most elephants in Mondulkiri are in a highly abused state. They are beaten on the head and made to do things they aren’t meant to be doing.’
Enter the Elephant Valley Project. Mahouts who bring their elephants here are paid a competitive working wage to retire their elephants full time to ecotourism. Mahouts continue to work with their elephants, feeding and caring for them and making sure they don’t 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 the Bunong communities in the project area, and health and veterinary care for the mahouts of Mondulkiri. The Wildlife Conservation Society lauds the EVP for helping to protect the eastern reaches of the Seima-Protected Forest.
The main option for visiting the EVP is a day trip in which half the day is spent observing the elephants, and half the day is spent washing the elephants and doing other tasks around the project site. There are a few exquisite bungalows at EVP but at the moment they are not able to accept overnight stays. Access to the site is strictly-controlled so don’t show up unannounced and the maximum number of day trippers allowed per day is 12. The site is not open to visitors on Saturday and Sunday, however there are plans to open six days a week in the future.
The EVP recently announced a fund-raising effort so that one of Phnom Penh’s best-known residents, Sambo the elephant, can see out his final years enjoying himself with the other elephants at the project. Forced to retire by authorities from giving rides at Wat Phnom and then his daily walk along the riverfront of the capital, Sambo has been in limbo for a while but it looks likely that he will be the latest addition to the EVP. Which is welcome news. Hanuman have been big supporters of EVP for many years, so don’t hesitate to contact us for more details on this excellent adventure in northeast Cambodia.