The Mondulkiri Province in Cambodia is home to one of the largest populations of both wild and domestic Elephants in the country. The forests that cover the province make the perfect habitat for these historic creatures to reside in, however in recent years much of that habitat has been destroyed due to logging. A once richly vegetated forest covered 80 % of the Mondulkiri Province, now only 30% remains.
Recently, both the local people and International NGO’s such as WWF have seen a need to conserve the remaining forests, as well as conserve the remaining population of the Asian Elephant. In doing so they have turned to tourism as a way to financially support the local people who own what is left of the remaining forests, and provide them with an alternative income that is not earned through former practices such as logging and poaching.
Ecotourism has become an important part of conservation in the area, as the local Bunong tribe now own what is left of the forest and the Elephant’s natural habitat. Historically this tribe, along with many other tribes throughout the country, have used Elephants as workers, taken away from their natural environment to be used to transport heavy goods, or sold to other provinces to be used for tourist riding. This, along with illegal poaching, has caused a rapid decline in Elephants throughout the country.
In the past decade various ecotourism projects have been set up in the area and you now have a variety of projects to choose from on your visit through Mondulkiri. All reputable organisations offer the same kind of experiences, which are ethical Elephant encounters while contributing to the conservation of the creatures and their habitat.
Many of the Elephants that now reside here have been rescued from human exploitation and brought here to be able to live again in their natural habitat. They now have access to the right amount of food and care, and although they are still domestic, they are treated much better than with their previous owners, with many arriving injured and scarred. It is a rule that none of the projects allow tourist rides so the closest you’ll get to the Elephants is feeding them Bananas and the chance to join them for a bathe in the river, which is certainly an unforgettable experience and a much more ethical one.
The money generated from ecotourism in Mondulkiri goes directly towards the conservation of the forest and towards the future of the Asian Elephant. Many projects are working towards breeding programs that will regenerate the Elephant population in the area. Although this may seem like a long way away, every tourist that visits a project is assisting in some way.
If you are unsure which organisation to book a visit through when you arrive you can head into the Hefalump Café, a responsible tourism hub located in Senmonorom that also serves a range of delicious cakes, as well as Cambodian fair trade coffee. This hub will give you information about all the options available in the area and they pride themselves on promoting responsible travel so you are in good hands. If you prefer to book in advance the two most reputable organisations in the area are the Mondulkiri Project and the Elephant Valley Project.
Getting there: To reach Mondulkiri you can take the mini-bus from Phnom Penh to the main town of Senmonorom. The trip is approximately 5 – 6 hours and will cost you US$12 one-way.