The Elephant Valley Project - facts / by Marek Charytonowicz

Just to give few facts and put the Elephant Project in perspective.

There are only around 400-500 wild elephants left in Cambodia, due to various reasons, partially war bombings and land mines.

There are only around 100 captive elephants left, 54 of which are in Moldurkiri province.

The Elephant Valley Project, established by Jack Haywood and run with the help of Jemma, is trying to save some of them, 12 at the moment by buying or renting them from owners, usually local villages, and returning them to conditions as close to natural as they can handle.

The Project will either buy of pay a monthly rent to the owner or owners - in rice, as large injection of cash is not benefiting communities not used to operating with money. Sometimes owner can also work for the Project as a mahout bringing home not only rent but also salary.

Jemma, the Assistant Manager and Tuan, one of the always smiling mahouts

The land where Project has its base camp is also rented from local Bunong families and paid again in rice - 1 tone of it exactly. Volunteers coming here contribute not only by taking part in work of the Project but most importantly by providing funds to sustain it and several other initiatives especially Forest Rangers patrols who take care of wild elephants and try to make sure illegal logging and land grabbing doesn’t take place.

Most of the elephants here were taken captive as babies from the forest and by living a life surrounded by people, they never learned behavior that an adult elephant would have. That’s why some of them don’t even make a typical trumpeting sound, some don’t know that their instinct is telling them to put a layer of mud on and remove it daily as that protects them from bugs and weather, some don’t do anything unless they’re told to. All of them also associate people with food so another challenge is to teach them to find food in the forest.

All of the elephants in the Projects are above 30 years old which makes it highly unlikely they will breed. That means that the population of captive elephants one day will be gone.

They are truly magnificent creatures and it’s sad to see them turned into large toys or tools that don’t really know how to be elephants anymore.

I’m glad that I was part of something that is making a tiny difference and I hope I’ll be back there one day. I really would like to see the wise eyes of Genial again and playful jokes of Easy, my favorite elephant ladies.

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