Cambodia,  Ponderings

Elephant Politics In Mondulkiri

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.

A bleak future for the elephants?
A bleak future for the elephants?

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.


  • enzo

    hi, i read your post (only post in all internet that i found) about elephant valley project.. so from 20 august to 23 august 2014 i will be in phnom penh and i was interested about this “elep. valley project” but reading your post i chage idea.. from this august the price for one day (from 7 am to 5 pm) will increse at 85$/person… so, i ask you … which type of “meeting” with elephant have you done? (in which village? in the jungle like elephant valle project or not?) … and, have you info to go there from phnom penh and return ? because it will be a tour extra.. because my travel plan regard: phnom penh (2 day) siem reap (3 day) and from siem reap take a bus to return in bangkok to take the airplane…

    thanks so much

    • emma

      Hi Enzo, sorry for the delayed reply!
      We went to Mondulkiri in the east of Cambodia, we went by bus from Phnom Penh which was quite cheap as there were lots of locals taking it too. Sen Monorom is the town we visited and it is very rural and basic. Lots of cheap guesthouses. We organised the elephant trek through the guesthouse which was run by a Cambodian. He had a relationship with one of the villages there, knew the people, helped them with food, medicine etc. The village owned several elephants and by doing the trek with the village owned elephant and a villager mahout, we were told that the money we paid would go completely to the village. We preferred to do this rather than the EVP. We also requested to trek alongside the elephant rather than ride it as 1. I would be too scared and 2. The baskets looked like they cut into the elephant’s back. The mahout rides on the neck of the elephant without a basket and you can choose to do this too if you want! Lionel gave it a little try but I’m not good with heights!

      Have fun in Cambodia! It’s awesome but very confronting!

  • Natalie Tucker

    Hi, I know you wrote this a while ago, but I just wanted to say thanks for your posts about elephant tourism in Mondulkiri. I’m planning a trip there for next week and we were thinking about whether or not to visit the Elephant Valley Project. I came across some strange things on TripAdvisor about guesthouses refusing to help people get there and thought it sounded a bit odd so decided to investigate further. I’m not sure what we’ll do now, but it’s really helpful to see what the story is before we get there!

    • Harald M

      Dear Natalie, I am heading to Phnom Penh in September, plan to go by motor bike from PP yo Mondulkiri, Naturally I would love to spend a day or two with elephants, don’t mind helping .. but the more I read online the more confused I am. Did you end up going on your trip? What did you learn over there? Any suggestions. Thanks, Harald

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