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4 Over 5: The World is My Home

Elephant Valley Project

CAMBODIA | Saturday, 6 December 2014 | Views [245]

Day 1:  I Arrived at the sanctuary amidst a great deal of excitement - after a year of work, Sambo, the last elephant working in Phnom Penh was due to arrive at the sanctuary as the newest member of the project. We would be updated on her arrival status at lunch.  In the meantime, the new volunteers and the daytrippers were taken on a trek down into the valley to observe four elephants.  The elephants at the sanctuary have all been retired from manual labor mainly in the logging industry, farming or tourist industry.  As they were taken from their herd at very young ages, many of them do not know how to do things that wild elephants do such as bathe themselves.  As a result, they are still guided by a mahout.  We were allowed to help throw water over them but from too far a distance to be effective really.  We followed them around for the morning while Chris, our guide chatted about their habits, quirks and life before and after the sanctuary.  On the way back we came across some red ants, which Chris said we could eat.  After taking their heads off so that they didn't bite on the way down, I was impressed to find that they tasted like a peppery lemon.  Good jungle survival tip really- not sufficient for a meal but would do in a pinch

After lunch we all headed up the "Hill of Skill" to await Sambo's arrival.  After traveling for three days, the truck with an enormous crate arrived.  You could see the hairs from the top of Sambo's head above it and once in a while her trunk came out of the crate openings.  I wonder what she was thinking at that point when she spotted our group - some clapping and some (those who work permanently at the project) crying, the documentary film crew, reps from US Aid and other NGOs, and EVERYONE taking pictures. Removing the crate via a crane was actually quite fast and efficient.  And then she was introduced to her new home.  We had all carried various fruit up the hill so that she would have an arrival snack but she was not interested - she wanted bamboo!  Elephants have an incredible sense of smell and she headed straight for it.  Unfortunately, a life of walking on concrete has led to a nasty abscess on her foot so she walked rather tenderly.  She was taken to the washing station and once back up the hill decided it was time for the fruit so we watched her tackle mangos, bananas, and watermelons - using her trunk to put them in her mouth.  After almost two hours she was led away for a photo shoot and some much needed rest.  She will be kept in isolation for about a week before being  introduced to her new elephant group.

Day 2: While others went to do vet checks, myself and two lovely Australians (who had just graduated from high school) were put to work chopping down banana trees at the bottom of a hill and hauling them to the top.  While another group had chopped banana trees the day before, they got to do it on a flat plantation area.  I guess the organizers thought it would be fun to watch the forty-year old sweat, pant and almost crawl by the end.  I am not exaggerating, even the eighteen year old Australians were having a tough time.  I had no problem doing my part but this was something else.

In the afternoon we were rewarded by going with Hannah to watch Easy Rider (nicknamed because she is the exact opposite) and Geenowl take a bath at a small waterfall.  Easy is 38 years old and Geenowl is 64. Even though it is usually the oldest elephant that is the matriarch, Easy is the dominant elephant of the pairing. On the way we walked past a farmer's field in which Easy had apparently gotten into a couple of weeks ago.  The project had to pay for the crop of rice that she ruined.  According to Hannah, she had cost them a pretty penny. While both elephants know how to bathe themselves, Hannah said they are often lazy and make their Mahouts do it.  That was the case for us.  Easy's personality showed through again when she tried to get to some papaya trees but was thwarted by her mahout.  She stomped her foot and bellowed like a child would.  It was hilarious.  We could then see her try to get to them by zigzagging.  I guess she thought she could trick him - no such luck.

Day 3:  Back to work chopping and hauling (and hoeing for good measure) but this time at the plantation area.  What a difference!  Our group from the day before was joined by another lively Australian and two German couples.  So for fun we entered into a friendly competition as team Germany and Team AC.  It really wasn't much of a competition though as the two German women did not want to get dirty.  They left it to their partners to pick up the slack, which they didn't. Ruth was too busy trying to keep the dogs out of trouble to notice though.  Oh well, team AC for the win.

In the afternoon all the volunteers from the 3 and 5 day programs were joined together and we became Team Commonwealth (British, Australians and Canadians). Ruth led us down into the valley to watch Moon and Milot take their bath.  Both know how to bathe themselves so it was great to watch.  They first immerse their body in the water and then use their trunk to reach the top.  Ruth was pretty chill about how close we could get which was nice. I think the elephants used this fact to toy with us though.  They made us traverse across the strongly flowing (I won't overstate it by saying it was raging) river twice in order to follow them.  Unfortunately, Anna (another lovely Australian) fell in.  No worries though -her phone was OK!  I felt for her.  She was having a bad day.  I too was apprehensive about falling in.  I did not care if I got hurt but my camera was another matter.  Actually, I was surprised (as is anyone who knows me I am sure), normally it would be me that falls in.  Is my luck changing?

Tags: conservation, elephants, sanctuary

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