Mondulkiri Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary is an eco-tourism conservation area located about two kilometres from Sen Monorom town. The organisation started an operation in 2014.
The five elephants there used to work by pulling wood down the mountain from places tractors cannot access and belonged to several ethnic minority Pnorng families. They were brought to the organisation after it launched an education campaign.
Laing Sovolak, manager at the sanctuary, said that many elephants have died in Mondukiri and not many remain. She said this is the reason her organisation works in elephant care and preservation.
“In the santuary, we have only five elephants because [in the area] some died and other villagers keep them for the tourists to have a look at and have a ride on for money.
“However, if they keep the elephant with us, we will give them monthly pay and feed the elephant and also provide medical care,” she said.
She said that while the entrance fee is set, it largely depends on the generosity of tourists for donations.
“It is set at $40 for foreigners and $20 for Cambodians. However, it is mostly based on their generosity. The majority of the Cambodians we charge half or sometimes or even free of charge. The donations go to food for the elephants and the pay to the elephant owner or shepherd,” she said.
“[With the elephants we look after], we help the shepherds with a monthly pay of about $350.
“We can also buy the elephants from them by raising funds, but if we do so, the elephant owners get the total sum at one time and that’s it,” she said.
Sovolak said the Pnorng doen’t let the elephants breed as per their tradition – a practice that is hard to change and takes a long time.
“I plan to start a school for the minority, because they do not send their children to state schools. The school will help educate their children to change their perception about elephant breeding.
“However, we cannot tell the elder ethnic minority [to breed the elephants] because they are old and… they will be angry with us,” she said.
She said the elephants were given to the organisation by the villagers after the education campaign.
Her organisation cooperates with Nature Lodge guesthouse in catering to rental rooms and the guesthouse also provides loans to the organisation when donations are down during the low season.