Easy has become good friends with Gee Nowl and they look out for each other and are never seen far apart.
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 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 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 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.
Sadly Sambo died in October 2023.
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 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 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.
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 as part of the volunteer placement fee 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.