Cambodia and her Southeast Asian neighbours have long had a reputation for providing elephant rides to tourists. As attitudes to animal welfare are changing worldwide, tourists visiting Cambodia are starting to search out more responsible and ethical tourist experiences.
Elephant Valley is based in Cambodia’s beautiful and lesser known North Eastern province of Mondulkiri. The project encourages mahouts to bring their elephants which are often injured and overworked to their protected piece of 1600 hectare forest.
The project is the outcome of the British founder, Jack Highwood. His passion and mission is to help as many of Mondulkiri’s elephants as he possibly can by preserving a piece of the Mondulkiri forest from the prolific logging that is evident in the area. Often the elephants that make it to the sanctuary have been overworked from pulling the illegally cut logs in the area.
Despite many local tour companies offering similar, ethical tourist experiences, unfortunately, many are only interested in tourist dollar rather than the elephant’s habitat and welfare. Jack’s passion and project have worked because he pays the mahout’s money to retire their elephants permanently to the project.
The mahouts continue to care for their former work engines by feeding them and protecting them from other loggers who may want to poach the elephants for work.
There is strictly no elephant rides for tourists here. The tourist instead experiences elephants acting naturally in the natural habitat. Because of this, it is the perfect opportunity to observe genuine elephant behaviour and local culture and ecology. The project also promotes forest protection for wild elephants in addition to education and healthcare projects for the local Bunong people.
For travellers wishing to stay overnight, there are bungalows perched in a beautiful position overlooking the valley for $145 per night with cheaper dorm options available also.
Day trips are available for a whole (US$85) or half day (US$55). It does not take overnight visitors on Friday and Saturday nights and is not open to day visitors on Saturday and Sunday.
The project has already gained an excellent reputation to travellers and is therefore extremely popular and booking well in advance is essential.
The maximum amount of tickets allowed per day is 12. However, if you are in Mondulkiri at the weekend there are other options available. There are community-owned elephant projects in the villages of Putang and Phulung, or trying out other ethical projects such as the Mondulkiri Project.
The Mondulkiri Project
The Mondulkiri Project was set up 2013 based on an agreement with the local Bunong elders from Putang and Orang villages. The agreement was highly significant as it stopped logging in a large area of threatened forest near the provincial capital Sen Monorom.
The area is home to many types of endangered and wild animals, including elephants in addition to some incredible waterfalls and valleys.
The Mondulkiri Project is managed by the Cambodia Elephant Rescue Organization, a registered Cambodian Non-Government Organisation (NGO).
Mr Tree is the Cambodian founder of the project explains his passions:
“The Mondulkiri Project is very important to me because i would really like to take care of the forest. It is difficult for the local indigenous community to have an income. To make money they are cutting down the forest to sell the timber to Vietnam or to clear the forest to make small farms. As the population is growing, the need for more rice is also growing. So more and more forest is being cut down. I am really worried that before long all the forest in Mondulkiri Province will have been cut down. The thought of losing this special jungle area makes me very sad.”
“My idea is to protect the forest so it can be used in ways that will still provide the communities with an income, without losing the jungle itself. Providing elephant and jungle trekking experiences for tourists and developing traditional medicines from the jungle will earn income for the Bunong indigenous people. We will also be saving habitats for elephants and other endangered wildlife.”
These are just two examples that serve an ever-increasing demand for responsible ecotourism in Cambodia and worldwide. Cambodia has some genuinely inspiring projects which will leave the traveller with many unforgettable experiences and give back so much to the local people, culture and wildlife.