Volunteer Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary

The Volunteer Elephant Sanctuary is located in Mondulkiri province, Cambodia. The sanctuary is dedicated to helping the domestic elephant population and working in elephant conservation to protect Cambodia's wild elephant population.

Globalteer is UK registered charity providing volunteer placements working in Wildlife Rescue and Conservation in Asia.

The end goal is the improvement of the welfare and living conditions of the elephants and to provide a sustainable income for the Mahouts (elephant keepers) and their families.

The project intends to promote the development of a new legal classification of forest - "Elephant Forest" - forest that is primarily for the use of a village’s domestic elephants.

These managed forests will be of a suitable area, contain enough foodstuffs, forest cover and sufficient water to cope with the needs of a village's domestic elephant population and give the elephants daily time away from human activity.

The sanctuary provides an alternative lifestyle for the domesticated working elephants closer to their natural living conditions in the forest. The elephant keepers are provided with an alternative income and the rescued elephants are provided a sanctuary with veterinary care and no longer work long hours.

The sanctuary also funds a 'wild elephant protection team' which works in the protected forest to assist in the conservation of the wild elephants in Cambodia.

To find out more about elephant conservation in Asia, visit our Asian Elephant Information Page.
Duration: 1 to 4 weeks

Hours: 5 days per week.

Activities: Observing the elephants in their natural habitat, participating in elephant research and care, conservation of protected jungle and upkeep of the sanctuary.

Location: Cambodia

Accommodation: Private hill tribe style house or shared dormitory rooms

Requirements: Aged 18+ Fitness Level: Good/Moderate. A moderate level of fitness is suggested as volunteers spend at least half of the day hiking mountainous terrain through the forest, which includes water crossings.

Donation: From £500 / US$750

The Elephant Sanctuary Location

The elephant sanctuary is based near the town of Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri province, eastern Cambodia, near the border of Vietnam. The elephant conservation project is located a few kilometres from the town in a protected area of forest.

This area of Cambodia is one of the least impacted by tourism and gives volunteers a unique insight into rural Cambodian life and the tribal Bunong people.

The Elephant Sanctuary is 650 hectares of mountainous, forested terrain and provides a safe haven where elephants come out of work to rest and recuperate. This is done by taking a hands off approach to the elephants and a hands-on approach to education and welfare improvement. It is a truly unique location in Cambodia.

The Elephant Valley is a series of interlaced rented farms and community forest that simulates the same environs that mahouts (elephant keepers) traditionally look after and care for their elephants in while providing a large area of forest to allow  elephants to escape human activity for the longest period of time possible.

The location includes:

•  Rest and recuperation centre, elephant house and feeding ground.
•  Habitation of employees and villagers that live on site.
•  Guesthouse and feeding ground.
•  Volunteer accommodation including lodges, dining area and lounge.

To find out more about Cambodia, visit our Volunteering in Cambodia Fact File.
Getting to the project
The nearest airport to this project is Phnom Penh, Cambodia (Airport code PNH).

To help you find the best air fares Globalteer has formed a partnership with a reputable global travel company who will tailor make your travel arrangements for you at a competitive price.

You can contact them for a free, no obligation travel quote using this online enquiry form, and if you do purchase your travel through them, Globalteer will receive a small donation. However, don’t forget that it’s up to you to make sure your travel arrangements are right for you and your project.

The Accommodation

The first night’s accommodation is in Phnom Penh on Saturday night where you will be able to meet other volunteers. The rooms are clean and comfortable with private bathroom.
 
At the project, volunteers stay in large individual lodges constructed in the traditional Bunong style with western style furniture, including toilet and solar heated shower. Volunteers who want a cheaper option can choose shared dormitory accommodation on their application form.
Each lodge contains a large double bed with mosquito net provided, clothes storage, seating, mirror, laundry basket and bedside tables. The lodges are located on the slopes of the elephant valley affording stunning views over the surrounding forest where many varieties of birds can be seen from eagles to hornbills. The main project buildings are made from mostly recycled and salvaged materials.
 
Three meals per day are provided for this project. The chef provides high quality local and international meals. Vegans can be accommodated and the variety and quality of food will suit all tastes. Volunteers dine in the main complex overlooking the elephant valley.
Sunset can be spent unwinding in the open air lounge, enjoying the amazing sounds of the nocturnal forest creatures and the gibbons calling as they prepare to sleep. Weekends are spent in the local town reconnecting with the outside world where volunteers stay in a hotel with hot showers and cable TV.

Daily schedule at the Elephant Sanctuary

Volunteers work a 5 day week. You spend half of your time observing elephants in their natural habitat with a guide and the Mahouts, who look after the elephants. The other half of your time will be spent working to help improve the sanctuaries farms and facilities. Please note that activities are seasonal and will depend on weather conditions, availability of water, river levels and other factors.

A typical week:

Saturday: Overnight in guesthouse in Phnom Penh.

Sunday: Travel to the elephant sanctuary by road across Cambodia passing through various small Cambodian villages. The trip can take 5-6 hours. You’ll arrive in Sen Monorom by early afternoon leaving you time to explore the town or to relax. At 4pm on Sunday evening you’ll meet the local project staff for a short orientation.

Monday to Friday:
  • Learning about the sanctuary and the elephants.
  • Observing elephants in their natural habitat.
  • Walking with the elephants into the forest to forage.
  • Watch elephants bathe themselves in the river, or help at a washing station (September to November) depending on the availability of water sources.
  • Participate in elephant feeding habit research or vet care checks.
  • Work to improve the living conditions of the elephants and to grow food for them.
  • Help to improve the elephant sanctuary by maintaining banana plantations, doing light construction work, planting seedlings and maintaining pathways.

Please be aware that this is a dynamic project and this is just an example of a typical week. Volunteering duties may change slightly during your placement. It is recommended that you have a moderate level of fitness. You will be hiking 1-5kms through the forest to see the elephants, however, your volunteer experience can be tailored to meet your needs. Activities are flexible and there is the capacity to use your skills, try new things or have a more relaxing elephant forest experience. To ensure that your placement meets your expectations, please include as much information on the application form as you can.

For those staying at the sanctuary, Friday night, Saturday and Sunday are free time which will be spent in the nearby town of Sen Monorom. This time can be used to further explore the forest and its amazing variety of creatures, explore the local markets and catch up on the internet. Many waterfalls are close by, some being amongst the largest in Cambodia.
For those leaving the sanctuary, Friday night is spent in Sen Monorom and Saturday is for transfer back to the capital.

Got a question about volunteering with elephants in Cambodia? Visit our Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary Frequently Asked Questions.


Apply now
for your volunteer placement at the Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary


The Elephants of Cambodia

There are approximately 53 captive elephants in Mondulkiri, roughly half of the Cambodian captive Asian elephant population

Elephants don’t belong in captivity, they belong in the wild. However when an elephant becomes a part of a people's culture and belief system it causes just as many problems to remove it from that culture.
A released elephant will have little fear of people and will start to raid crops endangering its life as people retaliate with guns and traps.

Elephant conservation in Cambodia is a complicated issue. We don’t support the capture of wild elephants and the Bunong people who are native to this region of Cambodia don’t support the breeding of elephants. Therefore the current captive elephant population will probably be the last Mondulkiri has. The aim is to ensure that this last generation is able to live out its life with as much dignity as possible.

The wild population of elephants in Cambodia is hugely threatened by loss of habitat. The sanctuary protects an area of forest from destruction to ensure the conservation of the traditional habitat for the Bunong people, elephants and the huge variety of other creatures in the forest.
 
Recent surveys have put the wild elephant population in Seima Protected forest (within which the elephant sanctuary is located) in Mondulkiri at over 140, making it the largest in Cambodia and therefore one of the most important to protect. 
 
The project uses 20% of the funds from volunteer donations to fund a Wild Elephant Protection Team. Their main tasks involve protecting the Seima Protected forest by preventing illegal activities such as illegal logging, hunting, trapping and land clearance. 

The Seima Protected Forest is one of the most important areas for Asian Elephant conservation with a breeding population of over 140 head in 300,000 hectares of natural elephant habitat. 

About the Elephants at the Sanctuary

The sanctuary normally has nine rescued elephants in residence, each with their own stories and personalities. Here are the stories of some of the elephants you may meet at the sanctuary.
Easy Rider

Easy Rider is not easy to work with as she is a big, young and confident female elephant that sometimes does not know her own strength! Her first mahout and her later owner were too busy to maintain her upkeep so the owner brought her to the sanctuary. It took a few months for the scarred and nervous elephant to visibly relax and to start behaving like a happy elephant again.

Easy has become good friends with Gee Nowl and they look out for each other and are never seen far apart.
 
Easy Rider can be recognised by her light, almost yellow eyes and her relatively short but stocky size. She is a true bull dozer elephant who likes uprooting trees and then scratching on them.
 
She really, really likes scratching:

Gee Nowl

Gee Nowl was a logging elephants that escaped her mahout’s control one day and innocently destroyed a farm. The mahout could not afford to pay the compensation to the farmer and asked the project to pick up the bill and to allow her to stay at the project as her constant escapades were impoverishing him.

In 2013 Gee Nowl was able to permanently retire at the project and live out the remainder of her life in the forest.
 
Gee Nowl is our tallest female elephant and her skinny body is one that reminds us daily that elephants are wild animals and are not supposed to be worked, ridden or controlled in an unnatural way. When she first came to us she was frustrated and scared and over the years has relaxed and has become one of the most gentle and wonderful elephants that live with us here. To watch her graze and roam in the forest is a true pleasure.
 
She is also great friends with Easy Rider who looks out for Gee Nowl and constantly bosses her around. Easy is always making sure everything is in order when it comes to throwing mud, eating grass and munching on bamboo and her constant attention always puts a smile on Gee Nowls face.
Milot
Milot came from two villages where she used to carry tourists in one and haul wood in the other. She is blind in her right eye (you must always walk on her left) and covered in old scars that were previously abscesses. When Milot first arrived, she was very resilient and hard minded; scared of people, vehicles and other elephants. However she settled into the project and can now often be found quite close to our base camp.
 
Most of Milot’s problems stem from being overworked by her previous owners who would overload her with which ever goods or people they were tasked to carry. She would have to haul such things as wood, oil, tourists and rice and trek between villages and far into the local forest to earn an income.
 
Unfortunately the bruising caused by the overloading led to some serious elongated abscesses from her poorly fitted and overloaded basket and through the pain she started to become uncooperative. This meant in turn she was hit in increasing quantities as to drive her along.

She now prefers to spend most of her time looking for bamboo and is a true mud-artist; she first makes a mud-paste and then covers her entire body in it and then she likes to have a good scratch!
Moon
Moon has a very long history, one that represents how the Bunong people are really connected to their elephants.

The project was introduced to Moon when the project staff went to treat her at the request of her owner. The owner was very impressed and started to talk to the team about options for his elephant. Owned by a few of his family members and himself, he has cared for Moon his whole life. This meant she did various types of work, but mainly on the farm carrying the harvest and helping the family. She is really a true example of how the traditional Bunong ownership and relationship with their elephants can work. For the owner, being a ripe old age of around 60 years himself, however, the daily care of the elephant was getting too much.
 
After explaining the model of the project, the owner decided to bring his elephant here to see if SHE was happy.
 
A couple of months went by where the owner spent time at the project watching Moon slowly starting to interact with the other girls and he got happier and happier. Eventually the owner asked the project if she can stay. Moon now spends her days hanging out with Milot, creating the third family of elephants. 
Sambo
Sambo is Cambodia’s most famous elephant. For many years she was a permanent feature in the capital, Phnom Penh, giving rides to tourists. She was originally caught in the Aural mountains before the war and was the sole survivor of five elephants that her owner once caught, trained and worked. After the civil war finished she was brought to Phnom Penh to give rides to children and tourists and many Khmer often came to visit her and to feed her fruits.
 
Sambo is a wonderful old elephant and we are so happy that she is now at the project. The project is hugely grateful to her owner for retiring her to the elephant sanctuary and allowing her to once again become a real elephant.
Ruby
Little Miss Ruby is one of the smallest additions to the herd; not by age or personality by any means, but by her very cute small size. Coming from a very long logging past, Ruby’s life was a hard one. When her owners could not look after her anymore as they have no land and forest left, the project stepped in.

Ruby has joined the group of Ning Wan, Milot and Mae Nang – now dubbed the Fantastic Four. She is already showing amazing elephant behaviour again, going from strength to strength. Gone are the days when if anyone held up a stick, leaf or branch she cowered to the ground. She now walks around confidently and approaches people ever so inquisitively for a new found love of bananas.

She now lives happily at the elephant sanctuary, enjoying the kind of life that all elephants should be allowed to lead. Ruby settled in surprisingly quickly, learning natural elephant behaviour from the more experienced residents at the sanctuary. 
Ning Wan
Ning Wan is an elephant that represents the true love the Indigenous Bunong people in Mondulkiri have for their elephants.
 
Ning Wan is a happy, gentle elephant who is much beloved by all and she has wonderfully taken on protecting the very troubled elephant Mae Nang and shows some very strong matriarchal behavior. Together with Milot and Ruby,  they have their own little herd in Elephant Heaven.
 
Since coming to the project, Ning Wan has learned to trumpet and squeek as well as how to have a good mudbath and you can often hear her from far communicating with her friends.
Mae Nang
Mae Nang is the one of the most troubled elephants to come to the project. Her previous owners worked her tirelessly for years, logging and transporting goods.

After lengthy negotiations she finally came to the project in June 2011. She shows signs of heavy overwork and is scared of anything new in her environment. However she is slowly regaining her strength and is a much loved member of the ”Heaven Gang”.
 
Ning Wan and Ruby have kindly taken her into their little herd and are teaching her how to be an elephant again. Recently she has been starting to guard the group more, an impressive indication that she is ever on the mend.

Why the Sanctuary needs Volunteers

The elephants of Cambodia need help. There is little education on the care of captive elephants and few possibilities of veterinary assistance when required.

The sanctuary provides vital jobs to the local indigenous population that cares for their elephants. Mondulkiri is being rapidly deforested and the project protects an area of "elephant forest" for the local population and the creatures that inhabit the area. The basic fact is the more funding that can be raised, the more forest and wild elephants that can be protected for the future and the more captive elephants we can have at the sanctuary.

The Elephant Sanctuary is as much about people as it is about elephants. Without secure employment for an elephant's mahout, an elephant is essentially at risk.

Only a few years ago there was enough forest in Mondulkiri for a mahout to just let his elephant wander around, with little more than a leg binding or a drag chain, but this is not the case anymore. A mahout now has to tend to his elephant regularly to stop damage to a neighbour's crops or injury from a criminal or poacher. Without regular employment and income there is little incentive for proper and correct care in modern Cambodia.

Increasingly we are seeing human-elephant conflict within the small local population. The Elephant Sanctuary is a place where mahouts can go to work, earn an income and look after their elephants in a way that keeps the elephants best interests at heart.

To pay for this we take you on as a volunteer and show you an amazing time, letting you immerse yourself in the simple yet amazing daily routine of our elephants and mahouts. However after you leave, we are still here and thanks to your visit we can continue paying wages, buying rice and foodstuffs, fuel and bananas and letting our lovely elephants rest in forest that is dedicated solely to their use.

Duration

1 week

2 weeks

3 weeks

4 weeks

Extra week
Private room
£640 /
$960
£975 /
$1460
£1240 /
$1860
£1440 /
$2160
£240 /
$360
Shared room
£500 /
$750
£765 /
$1150
£1000 /
$1500
£1200 /
$1800
£200 /
$300

Required Donation

The required donation to the project is stated in UK £pounds and US $dollars.

The donation includes:
  • Airport pick up from Phnom Penh international airport.
  • First night accommodation and evening meal in the capital and then at the beautifully styled volunteer houses at the project or the shared dormitory rooms. Weekend accommodation in the local town.
  • Sunday transfer to the remote province of Mondulkiri.
  • All main meals except at weekends when volunteers are staying in the local town.
  • Onsite project orientation with introduction to the elephants, their behaviour and the protected forest
  • Full in country support from the project staff.
  • Comprehensive information brochure about the sanctuary.
  • Assistance and advice for travelling to Cambodia.
  • Saturday transfer back to the capital.

The donation does not include flights, visas or insurance although we can provide information as required.

Application process & requirements

The minimum age for volunteers is 18 years old. No previous experience or qualifications are necessary but we do require volunteers to be respectful and open minded to the cultural differences they will encounter in Cambodia. Insurance is highly recommended at this project.

Volunteers must be reasonably fit as the work can be demanding in the tropical heat. You must be able to speak English. Volunteers must have a similar ideology to the mission of the elephant sanctuary, wildlife trainers and those who exploit wildlife for the benefit of people are not suitable for this project.
  1. Click on the link below to fill out an application form.
  2. Add "@globalteer.org" to your E-mail safe list to ensure that you receive a response.
  3. Your application will be reviewed and if accepted you will be notified via E-mail within one week.
  4. Pay your deposit to secure your placement within one week of acceptance.
  5. Research your destination, book your flight, inoculations and ask us any questions you may have.
  6. Full amount is to be paid 10 weeks before the start of your placement.
  7. A comprehensive information folder will be sent to you with all information including a packing list, Cambodia cultural differences, Buddhist Monk etiquette, useful Khmer language phrases, elephant sanctuary rules, useful phone contacts and full project information.
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