Elephant Valley Project
After holding meetings in Kratie Province, I traveled north east to Mondul Kiri Province for a meeting and some fun! My friend Amanda met me on Thursday evening and we stayed in these cute bungalows with a beautiful view overlooking the hills of Mondul Kiri. We woke up early on Friday to travel to the Elephant Valley Project, a program that was developed to rehabilitate overworked elephants in the area. The indigenous group of Mondul Kiri, the Bunong peoples, still use elephants as work animals on their farms and in the forest. The project gives them an opportunity to rehabilitate their elephants for some time while receiving a stipend to assist in the handling of their elephant while at the project. In other instances, the elephants are bought outright and caretakers are hired. Traditionally, each elephant has a mahout (a Hindi word for the person who works with the elephant; Cambodia has incorporated many Hindi traditions over the past many centuries… living in a society with such an ancient history is really hard to fully comprehend as an American, but that is for another discussion). At the project, the mahouts are responsible for following their elephant through the jungle during the day, and bringing them back to a grazing area to be chained on a 10-20 meter run at night, so that the elephants do not raid the local farmers crops.
Once arriving at the project we walked through some thickly settled jungle to find where the elephants slept. The mahouts undid their bindings and the elephants were free to roam, with a few approaching us as they explored. These elphants are somewhat “domesticated” as they had all been previously owned and used for labor, but their size is still formidable (although small compared to the great African elephants). After mingling for some time the elephants roamed towards the dense jungle in search of food. For the rest of the morning we followed them through the jungle, watching them in their natural habitat.
After an exhausting morning session in the jungle heat and humidity (in addition to the increased altitude) we trekked back to the lodge. Although we missed out on more elephant time, which would have included getting to wash them 😦 we got the unique opportunity to accompany the staff to a local Bunong wedding. The project cook was marrying a Bunong woman and the wedding was being held in a nearby village. In my experience, if you are able to attend a wedding or a funeral in another culture do so, as it is almost always guaranteed to be fascinating. While the ceremony portion of the day was attended only by the community elders and close family, we were invited for the afternoon feasting. The many intriguing traditions that I observed are hard to explain, so hopefully the pictures and descriptions I give will allow you to see and understand at least as much as I may have gathered from the day! The one thing I will note is that I was really surprised at how open and friendly all of the villagers were, especially in having their photos taken. I feel that this may have been a very unique experience, specifically in being able to take pictures of the elders (thanks to all of the rice wine they had been drinking all day).