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 room or shared dormitory at a local guesthouse with daily transport to the project

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:

•  Base camp where volunteers will eat lunch and relax
•  Accommodation for employees that live on site.
•  Elephant care facilities
•  650 hectares of forest for elephants to live in their natural habitat

To find out more about Cambodia, visit our Volunteering in Cambodia Fact File.

The Accommodation

The first night’s accommodation is in Phnom Penh on Saturday night. The rooms are clean and comfortable with private bathroom. On Sunday morning you will be transported to Sen Monorom where you will meet other volunteers and project staff.

In Mondulikiri, volunteers will stay in a private room at a local guesthouse with a 20 minute daily transport to the project. Volunteers who want a cheaper option can choose shared dormitory accommodation on their application form.

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.

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.

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

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 has ten rescued elephants at the moment, each with their own stories and personalities.

Gee Nowl

Gee Nowl 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 sanctuary to pick up the bill and allow her to stay. She is great friends with Easy Rider who looks out for Gee Nowl.

Easy Rider (Ride Easy in Khmer)

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.

Happy Lucky
Happy Lucky has a great sense of humour. She came to the project in a bad condition, dehydrated and malnourished. After careful treatment she regained her health and she is acting like a normal elephant again. (Watch out for Happy throwing soil onto you.)

Buffet
Buffet was used for hunting and logging for many years and must have encountered much hard work. She has taken her new found retirement like a duck to water and is famous for teaching the others how to trumpet. She is called Buffet because she eats everything, especially banana trees which she enjoys destroying - 'Buffet the banana slayer'.

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.

Onion
She is the youngest member of the herd and the most energetic. She is still showing the mental scars of her logging past but has made fast friends with Bob and is the best hope for having a baby elephant in the future. Her favourite food is bananas, bananas and some more bananas.

Bob
Bob sadly passed away peacefully in 2013. We are grateful that Bob was able to spend his last years in such a wonderful place, free from the burdens of hard work.

Ning Wan
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 behaviour. Together with Milot and Ruby, they have their own little herd down in Elephant Heaven.

Mae Nang
Mae Nang is the one of the most troubled elephants to come to our herd. Her previous owners worked her tirelessly for years, logging and transporting goods. After lengthy negotiations she finally came to the Elephant Valley 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”.

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, we stepped in. 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.  

Moon
We met Moon after treating a very bad case of fly bite infection, at the request of her owner. Moon recovered quickly and her owner was very impressed and started to talk to the team about options for his elephant to stay at the project. Moon is really a true example of how the traditional Bunong ownership and relationship with their elephants can work. Arriving in April this year, 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 he asked Jack if she could stay. Moon now spends her days hanging out with Milot, creating our third family of elephants.

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 your choice of a private room or shared dormitory near the project location.
  • Sunday transfer to the remote province of Mondulkiri.
  • All main meals
  • 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.

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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