Gentle Giants of the Elephant Valley Project

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The Elephant Valley Project provides a unique ecotourism experience to visit elephants and observe them in their natural environment. The project supplies an alternative for elephant rehabilitation and conservation by offering local mahouts a place to bring their overworked, injured, or sick elephants. Coordinator Jack Highwood states the sanctuary is a place where “they can learn how to act like elephants again”.

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In conjunction with the EVP, the NGO’s other project is the Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment (E.L.I.E.) which works with the Bunong people of Mondulkiri to help improve the health and welfare of domestic elephants. E.L.I.E. also helps assess and recognize the pressures placed on the people who rely on the elephants for their livelihood.

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Based in Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri, Cambodia the Elephant Valley Project offers several different visitation and volunteering options. I chose the full day elephant visit and followed two families of elephants through the jungle. The cost was $70US per person and included a delicious lunch and transportation to and from Sen Monorom.

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I had already spent three months in Southeast Asia and I had been tempted on numerous occasions to go for an elephant ride with different trekking companies, but my gut instinct always told me the elephants were badly treated or abused. Upon further researching elephant training practices, I discovered the horrific ways young elephants are taken from their mothers in the wild and then beaten into submission in what trainers call “the crush”. I’m glad I held out and chose to find a humane organization that is making a positive difference for elephants.

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The staff of Elephant Valley Project were incredibly knowledgeable. I learned about elephant care and welfare, but also gained great insight into the Bunong culture, forestry practices, and economy. The staff’s love and dedication to these beautiful animals is very obvious.

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I am grateful I was allowed the opportunity to spend a day shadowing these amazing, intelligent, gentle creatures through their forested valleys. In an experience I will never forget, I watched as the elephants bathed themselves, ate all kinds of plants, scratched themselves on trees, and touched each other affectionately with their trunks. Just to sit on a log and observe their natural behaviors and interactions was better then any inhumane ride, show, or set of cruel tricks could ever be.

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