I'd like to introduce you to Sambo.
Sambo is a beautiful 54 year old Asian elephant who, after lifetime of cruelty and pain, is living out her days at the Elephant Valley Project’s sanctuary in Cambodia’s Mondulkiri Province.
To me, the Elephant Valley Project (EVP) is the purest form of sanctuary that exists for elephants in Asia. It has 300,000 hectares of protected forest for its 10 rescued elephants to roam freely and local Bonong people are employed as mahouts. Local families and communities are supported with rice medical aid and education, forest is regenerated and, most importantly, tourists are educated about the plight of the Asian elephant.
The Elephant Valley Project rescues and teaches once captive elephants how to be happy eles in the wild - sometimes they have to teach them entire behaviours like how to forage for food and actually be a elephant.
And because guests simply watch elephants feeding or bathing themselves in the rivers and don't join in, the elephants are adopting these new behaviours - often helped along by their mahouts. It's a real step above other sanctuaries in terms of helping elephants rediscover their natural behaviours and return to the wild - independent, free and happy.
I just want to note here that I love Cambodia and adore the Khmer people I’ve spent time with, and the Bonong people that I met at the EVP who are animists and cherish every part of the forest and nature. Poverty plays a big part in how animals are treated and there is a clear correlation between affluence and animal care - as standards of living improve so do peoples ability and desire to care for animals. Over time many people have used elephants to earn money to support their family and community during times of poverty and desperation. But now there are other options for elephants where sanctuaries like the EVP will buy or lease the elephant and still provide an income for the family or community that has traditionally earned money with the elephant.
There is a lot of education and cultural change that is taking place - and it would be amazing if Cambodia took the step to be the first country to ban elephant riding and use in construction and logging industries. Imagine the global love, respect and accolades that would bring to Cambodia, not to mention the increased tourism into the country. This is what we need to encourage.
At the EVP our favourite elephant is Sambo, the 54 year old lady rescued from the Phnom Penh waterfront where she worked for years. After posting her photos on instagram so many people commented that they'd seen poor Sambo over the years at the pagoda, on the waterfront or from restaurant windows, and that she had looked sad and desolate and they’d wondered what had happened to her.
Thankfully, sweet Sambo was rescued by the Elephant Valley Project and now lives happily in her natural home. But sadly she is not without the damage that befalls elephants who are forced to work in the tourist trade or contracted to the logging or construction industries.
Beautiful, gentle Sambo spent at least 20 years walking 30 kilometres a day along the Phnom Penh waterfront. Each day Sambo walked for hours and hours on scorching hot concrete and asphalt, and then gave rides to tourists, begged for food and performed tricks.
Elephants should forage and feed for 18 hours a day - they need around 300 kilos of grass just to keep their bodies going. And poor Sambo was doing all this work and being given food by tourists - cans of coke, bits of scraps - and then old sugar cane and bananas from her owner, so her diet was basically sugar. She then slept chained up in a small yard before starting the day again in the steaming heat, burning her feet on the hot ground, carrying tourists and doing 'tricks' to beg for more tourist scraps to eat.
The ground was so hot and she had to walk so far, the entire tread of her feet was worn through, and one foot was so infected there was a gaping hole right up through her foot. It has taken years of treatment to fix and while there is a small hole still, it has healed a lot and some of the tread has returned to her feet. Two of her feet are still bathed in iodine every day by the team at the EVP.
She is a sweet, gentle lady who still sees humans as a source of food and still has clear begging behaviours she was taught like using her trunks to touch and engage people. It's probably why she kept coming over to us for hugs and pats - but we enjoyed it soooo much. Especially Emmie who was whispering to Sambo and sending her so much love.
Sambos mahout is teaching her how to forage for herself but it is a challenge to get her to eat enough as she feels full very quickly as her internal organs were compressed by the weight of the tourist and labour baskets she carried on her back for many many years. She now feels full quickly, and needs to eat more than she does. EVP is working on this with her help of her mahout.
People do very cruel things to these beautiful elephants, and poor gentle Sambo suffered from many injuries and lack of care.
Can you see the cuts in her ear and the chunk that's been removed? Her other ear is even worse. These pieces of her ear would have been cut off to be used in medicine and potion foolery. It's so ridiculous and elephants ears are so important! An ele's blood vessels cool by flowing through their ears and can lower the elephant's temperature by 10 degrees, and of course flapping ears creates breeze too. And it's essential they are clean and eles who don't get to bath each day have dirty ears that can't help regulate their temperature.
Similarly poor Sambo's tail was chopped off at the end as the hairs - so vital to her to clean herself, spread water on her body, touch and communicate with other eles, comfort herself and swat flies - are thought to bring 'good luck' and worn by people or made into jewellery. Please don't buy elephant hair jewellery when you're on holidays in Asia - this is where is comes from 😢
The 10 elephants at the EVP are fortunate to have had their lives changed through being purchased or leased by the sanctuary and now spend their days in the forest. But there are many many more who are still forced into labour and spend decades all alone, uncared for and living a sad, lonely life.
This is just one story from our time at the Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia. I have much more to share.
COMING UP & HOW YOU CAN HELP:
- Please don't ride elephants. Ever. In any way, not matter what people tell you. It's cruel, it hurts them and they are generally not being treated well.
- Share this post and others that help educate everyone about the plight of elephants around the world.
- Visit the Elephant Valley Project website and follow them on FB and Insta
- I’m about to launch some elephant shirts with all the profits going to elephant causes like Sambos medical needs.
- And there is lots more to come.
Thank you. Together we can help support the wonderful organisations who are saving these elephants and really make a difference.
Getting there and away:
We booked flights from Danang to Phnom Penh via Ho Chi Minh with Skyscanner and flew Vietnam Airlines. We stayed overnight in Phnom Penh and then took a minivan from Phnom Penh to Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri for about $12US each.
One the way back we went overland via the Snoul border crossing on a bus, walked over the border and jumped on the back of motorbikes for a 10k ride to the closest town. We then took a bus for about two and a half hours into Ho Chi Minh.
Evie & Emmie