I went to Mondulkiri province for the sole purpose to visit the Elephant Valley Project (EVP) in Sen Monorom. After an extensive research (aka reading multiple blogs and articles) I found EVP to be the only place that truly looks after rescued elephants. These elephants are rescued from families that have used them to earn money either by labour or entertainment. It has been a part of Cambodian culture for centuries. Through sponsorship, donations and eco-tourism, EVP raised money to either buy or lease these elephants from the locals; the families would earn $20-30k from selling or $200-300 per month from leasing their elephants. To put it into perspective, that is the average minimum wage for individuals in Cambodia.
Other projects claim to help the animals but they have much smaller land per elephant, no regular vet check up, allowing visitors to be too close to elephants for selfies and bathing. Selfies and bathing mean being close to humans and this means that the mahouts (elephant keeper) would have to use a hook to control the elephants.
Let me go on about the bathing a little bit more. For elephants to bathe while humans are in very close proximity is extremely stressful for the elephants as they cannot be playful and enjoy bath time – it’s like telling my toddler nephew to stay still in the bath tub and not play with his toys or bubbles. The other thing was that most of these elephant bathing selfies involve women in bikinis which is very disrespectful for the local guides who would have appreciated modest clothing, yes even in a waterhole, or especially in a waterhole
EVP has 1,500 hectares of land for around 10 elephants, regular check ups from vets and foot-specialist, supporting locals with healthcare when needed, employments for locals, lending their vehicles for emergency situations, and many more.
To learn more: http://www.elephantvalleyproject.org
I did the 3D2N Elephant Immersion program which consisted of 4 elephant experiences and 2 volunteer sessions. In the first hike, I got to meet Gee Nowl and her bestfriend Easy Rider, they are adorable.
While watching a group of female elephants bathing in the river I learned new residents of EVP won’t know how to bath themselves as they are used to being bath by humans so in transition their mahouts help them at bath time while they watch the seasoned residents bath themselves. My favourite was Pearl, she was playful, rolling around in the water, scratching herself against the rocks. The other elephants that afternoon were Mae Nang, Gee Chreng, and Ning Wan.