Volunteer Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary
The Volunteer Elephant Sanctuary is located in Mondulkiri province, Cambodia. The sanctuary is dedicated to helping the domestic elephant population and working in elephant conservation to protect Cambodia's wild elephant population.
Globalteer is UK registered charity providing volunteer placements working in Wildlife Rescue and Conservation in Asia
The end goal is the improvement of the welfare and living conditions of the elephants and to provide a sustainable income for the Mahouts (elephant keepers) and their families.
The project intends to promote the development of a new legal classification of forest - "Elephant Forest" - forest that is primarily for the use of a village’s domestic elephants.
These managed forests will be of a suitable area, contain enough foodstuffs, forest cover and sufficient water to cope with the needs of a village's domestic elephant population and give the elephants daily time away from human activity.
The sanctuary provides an alternative lifestyle for the domesticated working elephants closer to their natural living conditions in the forest. The elephant keepers are provided with an alternative income and the rescued elephants are provided a sanctuary with veterinary care and no longer work long hours.
The sanctuary also funds a 'wild elephant protection team' which works in the protected forest to assist in the conservation of the wild elephants in Cambodia.
To find out more about elephant conservation in Asia, visit our Asian Elephant Information Page.
Duration: 1 to 4 weeks
Hours: 5 days per week.
Activities: Walking the elephants into the jungle. Feeding and bathing the elephants. Conservation of protected jungle.
Accommodation: Private hill tribe style house with western interior or shared dormitory rooms.
Requirements: Aged 18+
Donation: From £500 / US$750
The Elephant Sanctuary Location
The elephant sanctuary is based near the town of Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri province, eastern Cambodia, near the border of Vietnam. The elephant conservation project is located a few kilometres from the town in a protected area of forest.
This area of Cambodia is one of the least impacted by tourism and gives volunteers a unique insight into rural Cambodian life and the tribal Bunong people.
The location provides a safe area away from the villages to treat sick and injured elephants while providing a hands-on approach to education and welfare improvement.
The Elephant Valley is a series of interlaced rented farms 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 includes:
• Rest and recuperation centre, elephant house and feeding ground.
• Habitation of employees and villagers that live on site.
• Guesthouse and feeding ground.
• Volunteer accommodation including lodges, dining area and lounge.
To find out more about Cambodia, visit our Volunteering in Cambodia Fact File.
The first night’s accommodation is in Phnom Penh on Saturday night where you will be able to meet other volunteers. The rooms are clean and comfortable with private bathroom.
At the project, volunteers stay in large individual lodges constructed in the traditional Bunong style with high quality western interiors, including toilet and solar heated shower. Volunteers who want a cheaper option can choose shared dormitory accommodation on their application form.
Each lodge contains a large double bed with mosquito net provided, clothes storage, seating, mirror, laundry basket and bedside tables. The lodges are located on the slopes of the elephant valley affording stunning views over the surrounding forest where many varieties of birds can be seen from eagles to hornbills. The main project buildings are made from mostly recycled and salvaged materials.
Three meals per day are provided for this project. The chef provides high quality local and international meals. Vegans can be accommodated and the variety and quality of food will suit all tastes. Volunteers dine in the main complex overlooking the elephant valley.
Sunset can be spent unwinding in the open air lounge, enjoying the amazing sounds of the nocturnal forest creatures and the gibbons calling as they prepare to sleep. Weekends are spent in the local town reconnecting with the outside world where volunteers stay in a hotel with hot showers and cable TV.
Daily schedule at the Elephant Sanctuary
Volunteers work a 5 day week. You will accompany the Mahouts who work in the forest with the elephants. Please note that work is seasonal and will depend on weather conditions, availability of water and other factors.
A typical week:
Saturday: Meet and greet in Phnom Penh, overnight in guesthouse.
Sunday: Travel to the elephant sanctuary by taxi through various small Cambodian villages.
Monday to Friday
- Learning about the sanctuary and the elephants.
- Learning how to interact with the elephant.
- Walking the elephants into the forest to forage.
- Help bathe and cleaning the elephants.
- Working with the local Bunong staff to improve the living conditions of the elephants.
- Help to form and build the elephant sanctuary by maintaining banana plantations, doing light construction work, planting seedlings and maintaining pathways.
For those staying at the sanctuary, Friday night, Saturday and Sunday are free time which will be spent in the nearby town of Sen Monorom. This time can be used to further explore the forest and its amazing variety of creatures, explore the local markets and catch up on the internet. Many waterfalls are close by, some being amongst the largest in Cambodia.
For those leaving the sanctuary, Friday night is spent in Sen Monorom and Saturday is for transfer back to the capital.
Please be aware that this is a dynamic project and this is just an example of a typical week. Volunteering duties may change slightly during your placement. Your volunteer experience can be tailored to meet your needs. Activities are flexible and there is the capacity to use your skills, try new things or have a more relaxing elephant forest experience. To ensure that your placement meets your expectations, please include as much information on the application form as you can.
Got a question about volunteering with elephants in Cambodia? Visit our Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary Frequently Asked Questions.
The Elephants of CambodiaThere are approximately 54 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 neighbouring 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 elephant will have little fear of people and will start to raid crops endangering its life as people retaliate with guns and traps.
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.
Recent 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 project will use 20% of the funds from volunteer donations to fund 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.
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.
About the Elephants at the Sanctuary
The sanctuary has ten rescued elephants at the moment, each with their own stories and personalities.
Genial (Gee Neowl - French for Great, Bunong for Ganesh)
Genial escaped her Mahout's control one day and innocently destroyed a farm.
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.
Easy Rider (Ride Easy in Khmer)
Easy Rider is easy to work with. Her Mahout was too busy to maintain her upkeep so he bought Easy to the sanctuary. After three days at the sanctuary, the scarred and nervous elephant visibly relaxed and started behaving like a happy elephant again. Since her rescue, she has changed ownership but her current owner is happy for her to stay.
Happy Lucky has a great sense of humour. She came to the rescue centre as a patient with abscesses, dehydration and malnourishment. After careful treatment she regained her health and she is acting like a normal elephant again. (Watch out for Happy throwing soil onto you.)
Buffet was used for hunting and logging. She was also abused and traumatized. Since coming to the sanctuary she is quickly regaining her sense of freedom in the forest and remembering what it is like to be an elephant again. She is called Buffet because she eats everything - 'Buffet the banana slayer'.
Milot came from a village where she was used to carry tourists and haul wood. Also heavily abused, she is blind in one eye (you must always walk on her left) and covered in old scars and abscesses from her previous job. While she settled into the sanctuary quicker than most elephants, she is still quite nervous and untrusting
She is the youngest member of the herd and the most energetic. She is still showing the mental scars of her logging past but has made fast friends with Bob and is the best hope for having a baby elephant in the future. She is the only elephant who carries a chain as she can sometimes bolt rather far and fast. Her favourite food is bananas, bananas and some more bananas.
Bob the only male member of the herd. Bob was rescued and brought to the sanctuary after he was found tied to a house, dehydrated and starving. It took months to calm him down and for safety reasons he is the only elephant with two mahouts. We have great hopes for the future with Bob and hope that he will one day father the first domestically bred elephant in Cambodia for fifty years.
Small and squeaky, Ningwan is best friends with Milot. She was rescued on International Women’s Day in 2011 after 2 years of negotiation with her 17 owners. Ningwan was previously used for the transportation of rice, tree oil and tourists. She is a very gentle elephant.
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 June 2011. Ningwan and Milot have kindly taken her into their little herd and are teaching her how to be an elephant again.
Ruby once lived a miserable life of hunting and logging. The project was able to purchase Ruby from her owners and she now lives happily at the elephant sanctuary, enjoying the kind of life that all elephants should be allowed to lead. Ruby settled in surprisingly quickly, learning natural elephant behaviour from the more experienced residents at the sanctuary.
Why the Sanctuary needs Volunteers
The elephants of Cambodia need help. There is little education on the care of domesticated elephants and few possibilities of veterinary assistance when required.
The sanctuary provides vital jobs for the local population and care for their elephants. Modulkiri 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 basic fact is the more funding that can be raised, the more forest can be protected for the future and the more elephants we can rescue.
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 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 take you on as a volunteer and show you an amazing time letting you immerse yourself in the simple yet amazing daily routine of our elephants and mahouts. However after you leave, we are still here and thanks to your visit we can continue paying wages, buying rice and foodstuffs, fuel and bananas and letting our lovely elephants rest in forest that is dedicated solely to their use.
The required donation to the project is stated in UK £pounds and US $dollars.
The donation includes:
- Airport pick up from Phnom Penh international airport.
- First night accommodation and evening meal in the capital and then at the beautifully styled volunteer houses at the project or the shared dormitory rooms. Weekend accommodation in the local town.
- Sunday transfer to the remote province of Mondulkiri.
- All main meals except at weekends when volunteers are staying in the local town.
- Training to interact with the elephants.
- Full in country support from the project staff.
- Comprehensive information brochure about the sanctuary.
- Assistance and advice for traveling to Cambodia.
- Saturday transfer back to the capital.
The donation does not include flights, visas or insurance although we can provide information as required.
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Application process & requirements
The minimum age for volunteers is 18 years old. No previous experience or qualifications are necessary but we do require volunteers to be respectful and open minded to the cultural differences they will encounter in Cambodia.
Volunteers must be reasonably fit as the work can be demanding in the tropical heat. You must be able to speak English. Volunteers must have a similar ideology to the mission of the elephant sanctuary, wildlife trainers and those who exploit wildlife for the benefit of people are not suitable for this project.
- Click on the link below to fill out an application form.
- Add "@globalteer.org" to your E-mail safe list to ensure that you receive a response.
- Your application will be reviewed and if accepted you will be notified via E-mail within one week.
- Pay your deposit to secure your placement within one week of acceptance.
- Research your destination, book your flight, inoculations and ask us any questions you may have.
- Full amount is to be paid 10 weeks before the start of your placement.
- A comprehensive information folder will be sent to you with all information including a packing list, Cambodia cultural differences, Buddhist Monk etiquette, useful Khmer language phrases, elephant sanctuary rules, useful phone contacts and full project information.