Hellbent on visiting the Elephant Valley Project, we ended up deciding against it and opted for a local elephant trek.
We were met with very passionate anti-EVP opinions and stories by the locals and even after the trek with the locals, I left Sen Monorom with mixed emotions and concern for its future.
I wonder if anyone has any true welfare thoughts for the region and its elephants or if it is all a battle for coin. Elephant tourism brings a lot of money to the region, so naturally, whether you are a local trying to make a living or a Western business man, you are going to want a piece of the pie. Locals even agreed that they’d be happier if 5 out of 10 people instead of the current 2 out of 10 people went on one of their treks. I don’t see how that helps the elephants, but can see how it would increase their profit by a sizable amount.
Problem is that the only way to preserve the wild elephants in the region is to completely eliminate human contact and leave them alone to roam free in their natural habitat. But with habitat loss and elephant tourism prevalent this is impossible to achieve. People will travel here to see elephants and logging and plantations will continue to diminish their jungle habitat.
The US$60 the locals earned from our trek were divided up as follows. Half went to Mr. Tree for his expenses which included 2 big bottles of water, 2 styrofoam containers with rice and a fried egg each, 2kg of bananas, pick up and drop off (about 15 minutes each way). The other half goes to the village who “owns” the elephant. The elephant got a few bananas out of it, a small compensation for freedom and being away from her family.
There is no stopping what is going on up there and like in many developing regions it is NGOs grinding up against locals, mixed with corruption and exploitation and a bunch of tourists in the middle being milked for their money to fund it all.
I lost my point a bit there, but what I am trying to say is that it is naive to think you can walk with an elephant and truly do something good for it, as it is naive to believe not going at all will save them. Conclusively the best fate is probably a 50/50 split in customers or better yet a true alliance between EVP and the local Bunong population – naive, I know.