Help the Rescued Elephants at the Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary
Work with elephants in their natural habitat at this unique sanctuary set on 1,500 hectares of amazing Cambodian jungle.
2 to 12 weeks from £773 / US$850
The Elephant Sanctuary is dedicated to helping rescued domestic elephants and conservation work protecting Cambodia's wild elephants. An ethical Elephant Sanctuary with responsible volunteer tasks. The sanctuary works with & supports the local indigenous community.
The Elephant Sanctuary provides an unforgettable jungle experience. Indeed, it is the best option for volunteers who wish to help rescued elephants recuperating from their previous work lives of exploitation in logging and elephant ride tourism.
You will trek into the jungle to observe the elephants in their natural habitat. This includes foraging, bathing in rivers, and bulldozing trees to get to the best luscious leaves!
There, you will participate in elephant research and care while assisting in the conservation of the protected jungle.
You can stay in a private traditional style bungalow or shared dormitory room in a rural area of Cambodia. This area is one of the least impacted by tourism. Therefore, you will gain unique insight into rural Cambodian life and the tribal Bunong people.
Alternative life for Rescued Elephants
The sanctuary provides an alternative lifestyle for the domesticated working elephants closer to their natural living conditions in the forest. Indeed, they take a hands-off approach to the elephants and a hands-on approach to education and welfare improvement, working as much with the local community as with the elephants.
You can read all about the difference between true ethical elephant sanctuaries and those that put tourism money before animal welfare in our blog about elephant tourism.
Join us at one of our most popular and adventurous volunteer projects!
Two years before diamond's birth, a wild bull elephant came out of the Keo Seima National Park and arrived at the elephant sanctuary forest. He then spent two weeks with the resident female elephant, Pearl. Pearl became pregnant and the result was the wonderful baby diamond! As an endangered species, the birth of an elephant calf is a very significant event in elephant conservation.
Age: 55 | Weight: 3.2 tons | Favorite food: Bananas | History: Retired from tourist trekking
Sambo is without any doubt the most famous elephant in all of Cambodia! For decades, she worked in the capital city of Phnom Penh giving rides to locals and tourists.
Sambo was taken from the forest when she was 8 years old and was the only one of five elephant friends that survived the Pol Pot regime.
With the help of the organisations and supporters, Sambo has now been returned to the forest at the sanctuary after more than 30 years living in the city.
Video about Sambo's incredible rescue
Age: 67 | Weight: 2.5 tons | Favorite food: Bamboo | History: Overworked and abused
Mae Nang is one of the most troubled elephants to arrive at the sanctuary. She was abused and worked tirelessly in logging and transportation.
Mae Nang's owners tied her to a house without food and water and left her standing in urine and faeces. After lengthy negotiations she was finally rescued and walked to freedom, coming to the sanctuary in 2011. Ningwan and Ruby kindly took her into their little herd and taught her how to be an elephant again.
Age: 60 | Weight: 3 tons | Favorite food: Fresh grass and bamboo | History: Retired from logging
French for Great, Bunong for ride Ganesh
Gee Nowl endured a hard life as a logging elephant. One day, she escaped her Mahout's control and innocently destroyed a neighboring farm. The neighbor kept Gee Nowl chained up in a small concrete yard. She was given no sensory stimulation and the wrong foods.
The mahout could not afford to pay the compensation to the farmer, so the sanctuary picked up the bill on the condition they could rescue and rehabilitate her from a working elephant to a carefree elephant. She is great friends with Easy Rider who looks out for Genial.
Age: 45 | Weight: 3.2 tons | Favorite food: Whole trees! | History: Injured by poaching trap
The sanctuary first encountered Easy when she was injured by a poachers trap and the sanctuaries vet was called to mend the wound. The owner was too busy to care for her so she was sent to the sanctuary in 2007.
Easy is best friends with Gee Nowl and is the brain behind the 'Terrible Two'! She loves to wander deep into the forest, bulldozing trees and eating anything green and leafy.
Age: 50s | Weight: 3.4 tons | Favorite food: Bamboo | History: Logging and construction
Hen is the only male elephant at the sanctuary. He was rescued by the sanctuary from a life of logging and hard work.
Hen has his own area of the forest valley where he spends his time relaxing and grazing. he walks the furthest into the forest to forage.
Due to the sometimes more aggressive nature of bull elephants, Hen has two highly trained mahouts. One mahout rides him on his head and acts as a sort of distraction and safety blanket. However most of the time Hen is just the most laid back gentle giant there ever could be.
Age: 57 | Weight: 2.4 tons | Favorite food: Vines & roots | History: Worked in logging
Ruby had a very hard life working as a logging elephant. After her owners no longer had forest left to log and sell, she came to the elephant sanctuary to retire.
Ruby was walked 60kms from her home to the sanctuary by project staff.
She shows amazing natural elephant behavior and has recovered immensely. Gone are the days when if anyone held up a stick, leaf or branch she cowered to the ground – she now walks around confidently as she protects her little herd.
You can read here a little more about Ruby's rescue and her subsequent escape to find a neighbor's bananas!
The Elephant Sanctuary Project
The Elephant Sanctuary was founded in 2006 with the aim to improve the health and welfare of the captive elephants in Eastern Cambodia, work to conserve the wild elephant’s natural habitat and to support the local people who work with these magnificent creatures.
The sanctuary runs a number of programs in Cambodia:
- Elephant research and monitoring
- Mobile veterinarian program
- Indigenous community-based organisation assistance program
- Ecotourism project that provides an alternative approach to elephant care
- Elephant rehabilitation and conservation project
The programs help to improve the health and welfare conditions of the captive elephant population and allows them to roam free in the protected forests. The sanctuary also helps conserve the wild elephant population by protecting their natural habitat in the Keo Seima National Park. The project supports the local community to protect their forest and natural resources… the habitat of the elephants.
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.
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 neighbor'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.
This inspirational project also works to provide the families of mahouts and the local community with a stable future through assisting them with education and medical care. You can read all about the projects social care program in our blog about how the projects cares for the community.
How the project is helping
The project works to protect elephants, give them a safe place to live as elephants should and to provide secure employment for local mahouts.
With this aim always in mind, the project 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 also includes a rest and recuperation center, elephant house and feeding ground as well as accommodation for employees and villagers that live on site.
Only a few years ago there was enough forest in Cambodia for a mahout to just let his elephant wander around, but this is not the case anymore. A mahout now has to tend to his elephant regularly to stop damage to a neighbor'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 correctly.
To pay for this, we accept volunteers and show you an amazing time, letting you immerse yourself in the simple yet amazing daily routine of our elephants and mahouts. Without the support of volunteers, the project would simply not exist, and the elephants lives would be very different to their life at the sanctuary.
The Elephants of Cambodia
There are approximately 50 domestic elephants in Mondulkiri, roughly half of the Cambodian domestic elephant population. They are threatened by a broad array of factors that range from physical abuse and misuse, to sale in neighboring provinces and countries.
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 domesticated elephant will have little fear of people and will start to raid crops endangering its life as people retaliate with guns and traps.
Importance of Elephant Conservation
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 domestic 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.
Surveys have put the wild elephant population in Seima forest in Modulkiri at over 120, making it one of the largest in Cambodia and therefore one of the most important to protect.
The Seima Protected Forest is one of the most important areas for Asian Elephant conservation with a breeding population of over 120 head in 300,000 hectares of natural elephant habitat. The project funds a Wild Elephant Protection Team. Their main tasks involve protecting the Seima forest by preventing illegal activities such as illegal logging, hunting, trapping and land clearance.
Volunteers always have a range of tasks to do, and you will work with the local staff on some or all of the following:
- 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.
Typical 2-week schedule
Day 1 – Sunday - Arrive in Mondulkiri Province in the afternoon to meet the team and other volunteers at the project.
Day 2 – Spend the first full day at the project meeting the elephants, learning their stories & learning about the forest and the local community.
Day 3-5 – Days will now be split between spending time with the elephants in the forest / learning how to undertake a health assessment / helping with onsite jobs.
Day 6 – At the end of the week, there will be a final elephant session followed by a chance to participate in a hike to explore the community forest and observe waterfalls and wildlife. The day will conclude by returning to the town of Sen Monorom.
Day 7 – Saturday Free time to relax and possibly explore waterfalls or book your own tour with a local guide.
Day 8 – Sunday At 3pm in the afternoon return back to the sanctuary.
Day 9-12 Personal volunteer projects along with elephant health checks and time in the forest.
Day 13 – On the final day at the site for two week volunteers, there will be a last visit with the elephants, followed by an afternoon of swimming in the waterfall (depending on the season), and then packing up and heading back to town.
Taking the elephants to the river to bathe and watching them enjoy being elephants has to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the volunteering experience.
Volunteers collecting all the favourite foods for the elephants!
Volunteer helping measure an elephant for their regular medical checks.
A Typical Day at the Sanctuary for Volunteers
A typical day at the project starts with a 7 AM breakfast served by the kitchen staff in the group dining room, where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the misty morning forest.
After breakfast, there's time to help with the daily tasks of the site, such as cleaning the treatment centre and washing station for the elephants, making medicine balls for the elderly elephants, or watering tree saplings in the nursery.
Around 8:30 AM, either head out to see the elephants in the forest or do some volunteer work.
Take a break for a two-hour lunch buffet, where you can rest, read, or nap in a hammock. You're also free to relax as much as you want during your stay.
In the afternoon, we go back to either seeing the elephants or volunteering until 4-5 PM.
After showering and finishing the day's activities, you can unwind with a book or a drink in the lounge, watching the sunset.
Dinner is at 6 PM and is always a highlight, featuring delicious local dishes with plenty of servings. Beer and soda are also available for purchase.
You can spend the rest of the evening playing games in the lounge, watching movies in the education centre, or roasting marshmallows at the fire pit.
Your comfy bed comes with a mosquito net, and you can fall asleep to the soothing sounds of the jungle at night.
Please note that activities are seasonal and will depend on weather conditions, availability of water, river levels and other factors.
To find out when is the best time to volunteer at the elephant sanctuary, you can read our blog about the best time to visit Cambodia.
Why the project needs volunteers
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 elephant's best interests at heart.
To help pay for this the project welcomes volunteers who can immerse themselves in the simple yet amazing daily routine of the elephants and mahouts. Long after volunteers have left, thanks to your visit the project can continue paying wages, providing care, and letting the wonderful elephants rest in forest that is dedicated solely to their use.
Only a few years ago there was enough forest in Cambodia for a mahout to just let his elephant wander around, 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 correctly.
To pay for this, we accept volunteers and show you an amazing time, letting you immerse yourself in the simple yet amazing daily routine of our elephants and mahouts. Without the support of volunteers, the project would simply not exist, and the elephants' lives would be very different from their life at the sanctuary.
Nick from the UK
''The project really provides a wonderful life for the elephants''
I had an amazing experience volunteering with the elephants in Cambodia. One thing that was truly awesome was the location, the elephants live a life as close as possible to their wild relatives in the jungle.
The project has a massive piece of land and the elephants get to roam and forage just like in the wild. We walked the elephants into the forest and made sure they had a happy and respectful life.
The project really provides a wonderful life for the elephants and I will be back!
Kate from the USA
''The project is making a real difference to the elephants lives''
The elephant project is just amazing! I love elephants and just spending time with them and being able to care for them and improve their lives was just the best experience I have ever had.
The elephants come from such a tragic background. The project rescues them and basically let's them be elephants again. The are retired from a life of abuse and hard work.
I will definitely be back, the project is making a real difference to the elephants lives and also to the volunteers who are lucky enough to care for them.
Nicole from Australia
''They want your experience to be as good possible''
During my time at Elephant Sanctuary, I had the pleasure of experiencing the local culture and spending a week in the jungle with new found friends watching elephants finally have a chance to just be elephants.
The staff there are passionate, knowledgeable and accommodating. They want your experience to be as good possible and it hard to catch a bit of their passion for the project. Learning all the ellie stories and doing medical checks on them, you get to know each elephant and they make their way into your heart.
The atmosphere there is as such that I made friends with other volunteers and we were able to continue our travels together. The sanctuary should be proud of the work they are doing and the atmosphere they have created. You even enjoy things like weeding and building paths because you’re making a difference to the ellies and the local community. During my stay, the food was even amazing.......I miss the elephants and the team already x
Food at the Elephant Sanctuary
Food is freshly prepared at the sanctuary. Vegans, vegetarians and many dietary preferences can be catered for by the onsite chefs.
The chefs rustle up a fine fusion of Asian and Western meals each day. All meals are prepared are delicious and plentiful. Meals depend on seasonal products available at the market, but include a wide variety of beef, pork, fish and vegetable dishes. A vegetarian option is available at all meals as standard.
Cambodia is a country where it is very easy to get around. There is always a travel company nearby where you can ask questions, and the Khmer people are very helpful. Tourist bus is a common transport in Cambodia. You can often book the same day, they have night or day buses and depending on your budget you can choose your comfort level. If you are travelling in the Mekong Region you can travel by boat all the way to Phnom Penh. From the Mekong Delta, you will have amazing views, you can visit remote communities and stay the night on a floating hotel and buy your snack from a floating market!
In Cambodia, you are never far away from a great snack or an amazing meal. The recommendation would be to enjoy local food over more “western” style restaurants. As the local dishes are very popular among locals as well as tourists, therefore the food is usually fresh. Try Cambodian street food such as stir-fried rice or Lort Cha, which is stir-fried egg noodles. A Cambodian sandwich called Num Pang is similar to the Vietnamese Banh Mi and you can get it on every corner. In restaurants you will find the Cambodian national dish, Amok Trey, a fish coconut curry. And Lok Lak, an amazing beef stir fry! For a sweet snack, try the Sticky Rice, they usually serve it in a bamboo stick.
The most famous sight in Cambodia is the Angkor Wat temple. It is close to Siem Reap and you can easily get there by taxi from the city. Siem Reap is a smaller city where you can make yourself familiar in no time. Here, you have everything from nightlife, yoga, bike trips, or guided tours to sacred sights and temples.
If you are interested a bigger city, Phnom Penh is the Cambodian capital and has endless things to fill your days. Visit The Royal Palace, The National Museum of Cambodia where you can learn about the interesting history of the country. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum where you can learn about role of the Khmer Rouge regime. In Phnom Penh you will find colourful original art, theatres, temples and food tours. It is also only a four-hour bus ride to the coast, and to Sihanoukville. Here, you can enjoy the beach and you are a boat ride away from several Cambodian islands with white beaches and all-night parties.
Free Time in Mondulkiri
Trekking forms the backbone of tourist activities in Sen Monorom, with incredible waterfalls, valleys and views all within easy reach of the town.
Mondulkiri province is home to the Bunong People, the largest indigenous highland ethnic group in Cambodia.
- Accommodation at the sanctuary
- All main meals while at the sanctuary
- 24 hour in-country support at the sanctuary
- All necessary training by English speaking project staff
- All necessary project equipment and materials
- Project and location orientation guide
- Arrival induction
- Accommodation at a guest house in Sen Monorom during the weekends.
Upgrade your package!
Want to enjoy your trip and be stress-free before volunteering? Leave the planning to us and let us arrange your travels to the sanctuary from Phnom Penh!
You can arrive at Phnom Penh international airport to get to the elephant sanctuary:
Phnom Penh Arrival
Airport pickup, two extra nights in a hotel and return transport to Mondulkiri
Arrive on a Saturday, the day before your start date in Mondulkiri. We will collect you from the airport and provide one nights accommodation in the capital city of Phnom Penh.
The next morning, you will go to the amazing Elephant Sanctuary in Mondulkiri province.
After your project placement finishes on a Friday, you will have one more night in Sen Monoron before return transfer to Phnom Penh on a Saturday.
If you need to arrange additional nights in Phnom Penh before or after your volunteering then please ask our knowledgeable staff to assist you with the arrangements!
Family and Group Pricing
Looking to volunteer with elephants in Cambodia as a family? We love for children and families to visit the elephants as well as learn about the sanctuary’s conservation efforts! Children 15 years and under receive a 50% discount! Please let us know if you have any questions regarding volunteering with your family and we will gladly assist you and your planning!
Do you have a group of friends or work colleagues that you would love to volunteer with? We enjoy assisting groups in volunteering with elephants and can make arrangements for group accommodations! Please let us know if you have any questions or inquiries regarding group volunteering and we will happily assist with the group discount prices!
As a UK registered Charity, Globalteer is required to be financially transparent to our donors. You can therefore see a full breakdown of where your money goes and our independently audited accounts by clicking below:
To discover why you should consider choosing Globalteer, please visit the following page:
Why do we charge a fee for volunteering?
Globalteer requests a donation from volunteers to allow us to achieve our charitable objectives and support our partner programmes. In return, Globalteer provides volunteers with an amazing, responsible and ethical volunteer experience. Ensuring that your placement is responsible as well as rewarding, safe and enjoyable takes a good deal of work.
A summary of Globalteer’s total expenditure for the last financial year is shown below:
Donations and Grants 60% – This includes a share of volunteer placement fees, grants we have secured for our projects and donations managed by Globalteer that are made by individuals and groups to our projects and partner projects.
Support Costs 29% – This includes volunteer accommodation, volunteer transport, support staff costs, travel costs and some volunteer meals.
Operational Costs 11% – Costs of running Globalteer.
What’s not included
- Medical and travel insurance
What do everyday items cost?
The official currency of Cambodia is the Riel. However, all shops and market stalls accept US$. They just might give you small change in local currency ($1 = 4000 Riels). Also, be aware that they might not accept dollar bills with any tears or markings. ATMs dispense cash in US$. The cost of living in Cambodia is very low compared to most countries in the developed world. The costs of some typical items are:
- Short journey by tuk-tuk - $1 to $2
- Meal in a market - $1
- Bottle of soft drink - $0.50 to $1
- Draft beer - $0.50 to $2
- Meal in a restaurant - $4 to $25