Lucy’s experience at the Elephant Conservation project in CambodiaVolunteer Experiences / 06 October 2018
Lucy from the Pod Volunteer team recently visited our projects in Cambodia and shared with us a typical day at the Elephant Conservation project and what it is like living in the heart of the tropical forest, a world away from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh!
Observing the elephants roaming freely
My day started with breakfast at the top of ‘base camp’, which offers stunning views of the 1500 acre forest where the project is located. We enjoyed pancakes with our fantastic view!
In the morning we set off into the valley, to a secluded spot where 3 retired elephants roam freely. There are 10 elephants in total currently living at the project, each with a troubled history from working in logging, farming and tourism.
As we walked down into the valley, we were excited to observe elephants in this beautiful setting and were greeted with elephants’ trumpeting their arrival. The first elephant we observed and monitored was Pearl who is the ‘baby’ of the herd at a youthful 28 years of age, having come to live at the sanctuary as she was discarded by her previous owners.
Each elephant has a dedicated mahout who uses positive reinforcement to encourage them to express natural behaviour, such as washing in the river to keep cool. This, and foraging for food, is gently encouraged by their patient mahout. This is clearly a successful technique, as we observed elephants following their natural instinct in chucking mud over themselves for protection from sun and insects, something they would have been discouraged from doing whilst in captivity.
There is plenty of lush forest for these elephants to feast on which is full of bamboo, shoots and ginger. A typical Asian elephant eats for 18 hours a day and eats 30 kg a day! In addition to this, the team also provide additional supplements such as turmeric to alleviate arthritis in the older elephants.
Volunteers are vital in supporting the local team in observing and tracking the elephants’ behaviour, interactions and feeding habits. Volunteers also help conduct health checks on the elephant, you can find out more on this here.
Farming to feed the elephants living at the sanctuary
Following a tasty lunch of traditional Khmer Cuisine, we worked in the afternoon doing tasks which directly benefited the elephants. This included agricultural work – cutting and pruning mango, banana and pineapple trees which are grown to feed the elephants. A typical day can also include general maintenance tasks to assist the day to day running of the sanctuary.
We also worked hard in preparing salt and turmeric medicine balls, an enrichment to stimulate the elephants and help promote natural behaviour such as foraging and hunting for food. Dead leaves were removed from the banana trees and laid out to make an effective fertiliser.
It was very rewarding to know our efforts support the elephants living in the forest. We returned back to base camp after a fun and busy day, ready for a refreshing cold shower and enjoyed the stunning scenery with a cup of tea!
We are currently looking for volunteers to join the Elephant Conservation project in Cambodia, you can find out more on how to get involved here!
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