Run by the appropriately-named E.L.I.E (Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment) NGO, the Elephant Valley Project is a true sanctuary. They put the elephants’ welfare first by protecting them in a stress-free natural habitat. You won't be able to ride, swim with or feed the elephants… which is exactly as it should be.
The sanctuary provides a safe habitat for retired working elephants, and works with the local community to create sustainable income, improve conditions for Mondulkiri's captive elephants, support the local Banon community, and conserve the region's habitat. They exemplify combining ecotourism and animal welfare in the best way possible.
This project puts animal welfare front and centre. Their ethos is to ‘let the elephants just be elephants’, with visitor interaction kept to a responsible limit. The idea of interacting closely with elephants can be incredibly tempting for many of us, and feeding or patting an elephant may seem like a harmless thing to do. However, many elephants have good reason to mistrust humans. The sanctuary's research shows that the majority of wildlife attractions harm the animals' welfare, so they've developed an approach that lets the elephants live in peace.
Appropriate, healthy food is provided, and regular health checks are carried out by resident vets. The elephants are given plenty of space to recover from working life and express their natural behaviour, and have ample forest in which to hide from humans whenever they feel like it. You won't be able to swim with them, let alone sit on them, or even feed them, but you will have the privilege of witnessing them happy and content, socialising together and enjoying their environment.
Hike through the surrounding forests, learn about the unique histories of each of the resident elephants, and meet the local Bunong people, for whom elephants are integral to their animist belief system. If you'd like to spend longer than a day here, stay in one of the on-site bungalows, observing elephants and helping out with tasks such as reforestation and growing the elephants' food. If you really want to roll your sleeves up and get involved for longer, there are 7+ day volunteer programs that let you contribute to the elephants' ongoing welfare in a practical way.
However long you choose to stay, your presence at the Elephant Valley Project will not only support the wellbeing of its resident elephants, but also E.L.I.E's wider initiatives, which include working with elephant owners so that their animals don't have to work, conserving and regenerating elephant habitats, and supporting local rangers to protect Mondulkiri's wild herds.