05 Aug Chang? Elephant? No, No! Dumbarai! (Elephant in Khmer)
The deep rumbling heard in the distance catches our attention, but it’s the snapping and cracking of forest that turns our heads. For a moment we wonder what we signed up for, whether or not we are actually in an outtake from Jurassic Park. But then we suddenly see the trunk and flapping ears of an elephant.
Wrapping up our time at the Elephant Valley Project (EVP), it’s hard to believe we’ve spent the last week feeding, bathing, watching and falling in love with animals on the endangered species list. In the various forms of a stuffed animal, Babar, the Elephant Show with Sharon Louis and Bram, a Halloween costume, a shower curtain – elephants have been a part of our young lives for as long as we can remember. Well, this week we really had an opportunity to learn about the plight and intricacies of this magnificent, prehistoric creature.
Once revered in Cambodian culture, the Asian elephants numbers have plummeted over the last few decades leaving only several hundred in the entire region that at one time was teeming with elephants. With only about 500 left in the wild and about another 100 in captivity throughout all of Cambodia, the time is now or never to try to maintain their scarce numbers. As the jungle dwindles around these wild populations, despite being protected areas, their survival rates continue to be threatened. The rise of rubber plantations, land grabbing by the wealthy, and the threat of illegal logging makes the conservation of the area no small task with little to no funding or government support. In comes the Elephant Valley Project!
Although the rescue and rehabilitation of the elephants gets the lion’s share of the attention from tourists, there are much larger goals at hand. The project is located where several protected forests meet. EVP rents the land from the local Panang people. Instead of money, they deliver several truckloads of rice as their rent payment to the villages every month. Over 77 people are employed by the project from all the surrounding villages, making them directly involved in the protection of their own forest. The project aims not only to rescue and rehabilitate elephants but also to create sustainable alternatives for the villages to earn a comfortable living meeting their day-to-day needs today and in the future.
We conquered the massive spiders, pestering mosquitoes, biting ants, hiding millipedes and toilet guarding giant geckos! We sliced down two acres of bush with machete, ninja knives to plant a bamboo snacking heaven for our new friends! We made human chains to cross the currents of streams turned into fast paced moving rivers! We did all this and loved every second!! But our Winnie the Pooh, Ben 10, Strawberry Shortcake, Mickey Mouse, and “Hillo” Kitty decorated rooms were a welcomed sight upon our return.
After a well-deserved birthday celebration for our now 19-year old Sofie Seymour, the group has split and gone their separate ways. Well, sort of. The group all made their way down to Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s southern beach town, together for the beginning of their not-so independent travel time. Steve, Matt and I have decided after our buffet feast and motorbike adventure we are going to find them!
Not over yet, but coming to the end soon,
The SEA Eco Crew