Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary

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.

1 to 12 weeks from £375 / US$450

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.

Project Overview

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.

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.

We highly recommend this ethical elephant sanctuary for elephant lovers that wish to put animal welfare above the financial pressures in tourism. With thousands of elephants globally involved in tourism, it is imperative to support projects with responsible animal welfare. This sanctuary puts elephants first. We bring you to the elephants, not the elephants to you!

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!

Volunteers helping at the Elephant Sanctuary
Meet some of the Elephants at the Sanctuary!

Sambo

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

Mae Nang

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.

Help the rescued elephants at the sanctuary
Sambo the rescued elephant

Gee Nowl

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.

Elephant checks at the sanctuary
Elephant fun in the mud

Easy Rider

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.

Elephant bath
Rescued elephant relaxing at the sanctuary

Hen

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.

Ruby the elephant
Caring for the elephants at the sanctuary

Ruby

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!

Asian elephant bathing
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.

Programs

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. 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.

The community
The Bunong people of Cambodia
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 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.

Why Volunteer?
Volunteer observing one of the elephants

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
Volunteers monitoring the elephants

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
A happy elephant at the sanctuary

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.

Elephant love!
Typical Volunteer Duties

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. You will spend the other half of your time working to help improve the sanctuary's farms and facilities.

Tasks

Volunteers always have a range of tasks to do and you will work with our 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.

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.

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.

Volunteers caring out health monitoring of an elephant
Why the project need 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 elephants 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 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 from their life at the sanctuary.

Volunteer Reviews
Volunteers observing the elephants

Nick from the UK

''The project really provides a wonderful life for the elephants''

5-stars
Volunteers observing 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''

5-stars
Volunteers enjoying a meal at the sanctuary