Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary Fact File
General facts about CambodiaCountry name: Conventional long form: Kingdom of Cambodia. Conventional short form: Cambodia. Local short form: Kampuchea
Area: Total: 181,040 sq km
Terrain: Mostly low, flat plains; mountains in southwest and north
Population: 13.5 million
Age structure: 0-14 years: 37.3%, 15-64 years: 59.7%, 65 years and over: 3.1%
Life expectancy at birth: Total population: 58.87 years male: 55.92 years female: 61.96 years
Ethnic groups: Khmer 90%, Vietnamese 5%, Chinese 1%, other 4%
Religions: Theravada Buddhist 95%, other 5%
Literacy: Definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 69.4% male: 80.8% female: 59.3% (2002)
Capital: Phnom Penh
Languages: Khmer (official) 95%, French, English
Government type: Stable multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy established in September 1993
International airports: Phnom Penh & Siem Reap
Currency : Riel (US$1 ~ 4000 Riel) - US$ are used for most transactions with Riel used as small change.
Climate in Cambodia
Mondulkiri has a cooler climate than the rest of Cambodia:
1. April through October - hot and wet in the day and cold at night.
2. November through December - light showers but generally cooler, particularly cold at night.
3. January through March - dry and hot in the day and cold and dry at night.
At an average elevation of 800 metres, it can get chilly at night.
Got any more questions about volunteering with elephants? Why not try our Frequently Asked Questions About the Elephant Sanctuary.
Elephant CareThe Elephant Project began as an initiative to improve the health and well being of Mondulkiri's captive elephant population. This meant visiting surrounding villages to document and assess elephants, as well as to encourage owners to rest and recuperate sick elephants. After years on the road, the project has realised that very few working elephants are healthy. Most have broken spirits and broken bodies, and many are covered in abscesses as well as being chronically underfed.
In an effort to combat these problems we have changed our policies at the project. The project no longer offers elephant riding or any other form of elephant labour. Elephants at the project now have the freedom to socialise in family groups, play in mud pits, and spray water around in the river. Elephants that are very sick will now be able to receive medical treatment in the new elephant hospital. For everyone who has been here in the past, we invite you to come back and see the difference. We think you'll see a big change!!
The Bunong of Cambodia
The Bunong are the indigenous peoples of Mondulkiri, although considered a 'minority' they in fact make up the majority of the population of Mondulkiri Province.
The Bunong are believed to have been living in the Mondulkiri area for around 2,000 years, they traditionally have a strong link with their natural environment, hunting in the woods around their villages as well as collecting foodstuffs and other non-food products (such as timber or tree-sap) from the woods. Traditionally the Bunong do not take products from the forests that they do not need themselves and therefore have a minimal impact on their environment.
The Bunong's religious/spiritual beliefs are animistic, this is to say that they believe all things have spirits - animals, plants, hills, stones, jars, buildings - everything. Their ancestors are also represented by spirits. If these spirits are unhappy because of some human action they can intervene in the life of the Bunong, to harm or protect them. Sometimes it is necessary to appease the spirits with ceremonies/rituals, including animal sacrifice.
The Bunong are a traditionally autonomous and self-governing society in which village elders are called upon to solve internal disputes. If it is decided that a 'law' has been broken then it may be that the guilty party would have to pay a fine to the village and also need to carry out some ceremony as noted above. Crimes which are relatively common in the West and in much of 'developed society' as a whole - such as thefts, physical violence, rape, and murder - are practically unheard of in Bunong society.
More photos are available at the Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary Gallery
History of the Bunong peopleThere is little documentation of the Bunong up until the French colonised Cambodia in 1864. A road was built linking Sen Monorom to Kompong Cham, though Mondulkiri remained sparsely populated (as it does today with only 2 people per square Kilometre). In the 19th century the Bunong had a reputation for being particularly warrior-like in their resistance to the French army.
In 1969-1970 Mondulkiri fell under Khmer Rouge control and as a consequence much of the population was displaced to Koh Nhek, where the people were forced to work in rice paddy fields. It was not until the 1980's that the Bunong were allowed to return to their villages and traditional homeland. Then they were provided with weapons to protect themselves from possible Khmer Rouge attacks. Also at this time they were told to move their villages closer to roads in order for the government to supervise their activities.
Traditionally the Bunong are essentially subsistence farmers who practice some trade with surplus products. Today this is more or less still the case, with the Bunong relying heavily on their hillside rice and bananas. For a number of reasons they have begun to diversify the crops which they cultivate, now Cashew trees and Sweet Potatoes are becoming more popular.
It has long been an ideal for the Khmer government to teach the Bunong how to "live and behave like Khmer" and this has had some success. The desire for the Bunong to be more like Khmer people - more modern - has led to a greater number of Bunong men getting jobs - ie a career -some of the Bunong men are employed in the police or army services. The small wages that these men receive - and the greater exposure to Khmer and Western culture has led to a demand for Khmer style housing, motorbikes, and electrical products such as Radios and Televisions.
The Bunong Land
Strangely, even though it is recognised that the Bunong have occupied the lands in the region for thousands of years, they are not entitled to a legal right to their lands. This makes them extremely vulnerable to logging and land-grabbing which are becoming increasingly problematic in Mondulkiri Province. This point is highlighted by Sidel (2005)
"Economic and infrastructural development promoted by the Royal Government of Cambodia, spontaneous or encouraged immigration and the impact of the market economy present difficult challenges for indigenous peoples in the country. The single biggest concern, however, is the loss of access to and control over their land and natural resources."
Getting to the Elephant Sanctuary
Your first night will be in a hotel in Phnom Penh on a Saturday. Volunteers will then travel by car to the project on Sunday. The journey takes volunteers through amazing small Cambodian villages, a sight that many visitors to the country never experience. The journey takes you through a full array of Cambodian countryside from rice paddy to forest to mountains and takes approximately 6 hours.
Visas are easily obtained on arrival at Siem Reap and Phnom Penh international airports. Visas are available at border crossings with Thailand and Vietnam but not always with Laos.
A tourist visa costs US$20 for 30 days and can be extended for another 30 days only. A 'normal' visa (previously called a 'business visa') costs US$25 for 30 days and can be extended for an indefinite period of time.
Cambodia immigration authority ask that volunteers get a 'normal' (business) visa on arrival, even if they stay less than one month. By law, a 'normal' (business) visa permits visitors to volunteer.
Be aware that a passport with at least 6 months validity is required. You will also need to provide immigration with a passport size photograph.
Go here to find out more about Elephant Conservation in Asia
Health and SafetyMondulkiri is situated on the famous "Ho Chi Minh trail" which was used by the Vietnamise to reach the South of Vietnam. As a consequence, this area was heavily bombed between 1969 and 1975 and the area still has unexploded ordinance. Although things have drastically changed due to the dedicated work of organisations such as CMAC, visitors to the area should be aware that UXOs exist in Mondulkiri. It is believed that the area will never be fully cleared in the same way as UXOs are still being found in Europe from the 1940's. There are virtually no land mines in this area of Cambodia.
For your vaccinations you will need to consult a doctor for up to date information. Due to the protected forest location there are a number of potentially dangerous animals that you should be aware of, although are very unlikely to encounter.
Buddhism in CambodiaThe predominant religion in Cambodia is Buddhism. Buddhism is a rather flexible religion which teaches that nothing is eternal and everything in the world is subject to change, only aging, sickness and death are certain and unavoidable. Buddhism has no unique creed, no single authority, no single sacred book. It focuses on the potential of the individual to obtain enlightenment or "nirvana".
Buddhism was founded from the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, born in 566BC on the Indian - Nepalese border. He was from a privileged and wealthy family but became disillusioned with his life and left home to embark upon a life of wandering on a spiritual quest. As he sat meditating under a tree he had a profound experience called Bodhi or "awakening". He had a deep understanding of the nature of suffering, its cause and a way of stopping it. The Lord Buddha then devoted his life to teaching the way to cease suffering. By his death at the age of 80 he had a considerable following and a well organised community.
The eightfold path teaches the moral principles that all Buddhist should practice. Following this path helps a person realise that greed and selfishness cause all earthly suffering, with this understanding one's own suffering may end. Buddhism is a very peaceful religion that teaches morality, meditation and wisdom.
A Brief History of CambodiaFor 600 years powerful Khmer kings dominate much of present-day Southeast Asia, from the borders of Myanmar east to the South China Sea and north to Laos. It was during this period that Khmer kings built the most extensive concentration of religious temples in the world--the Angkor temple complex. The most successful of Angkor 's kings, Jayavarman II, Indravarman I, Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, also devised a masterpiece of ancient engineering: a sophisticated irrigation system that includes barays (man-made lakes) and canals that ensured as many as three rice crops a years. Part of this system is still in use today.
As the Angkor period ended, Cambodia's capital moved south to Lovek, then to Udong and finally to the present-day capital of Phnom Penh. Among the main features of the post-Angkorean era, besides the movement of the capital, was a widespread conversion to Theravada Buddhism, illustrated on temple carvings, where Buddhist features gradually replaced Hindu features.
The 15th to 17th centuries represented a time of foreign influence, when expansionist Siam and Vietnam fought over Cambodia. By the mid-1800s, Cambodia, like most other countries in Asia, came under increasing pressure from European colonial powers. In 1863, the country agreed to protection from France. King Norodom signed a Protectorate Treaty between King Norodom and the French. There are two dynastic families within the Cambodia Royal Family -- the Norodoms and the Sisowaths. With the death of King Norodom in 1904, the dynasties switched. The heir apparent, a Norodom, was replaced instead with a Sisowath.
In 1941, the throne switched back to the Norodoms with the crowing of Cambodia's current king, Norodom Sihanouk. He was 18. In 1945, the Japanese briefly ousted the French. Encouraged, King Sihanouk campaigned tirelessly and in 1953 he succeeded in winning independence for Cambodia, effectively ending 90 years under French protectorate. King Sihanouk abdicated the throne to his father and took the reins of government himself as head of state. Throughout the 1950s and ' 60s Cambodia was self-sufficient and prospered in many areas.
However, the quagmire of growing war in Vietnam spread relentlessly, and in 1970, as war spilled over into Cambodia, Prince Sihanouk was overthrown by General Lon Nol. Then, 17 April 1975, Lon Nol 's weakened government was itself overthrown by the Khmer Rouge. They immediately emptied the capital of its residents and brought Prince Sihanouk back, only to hold him under house arrest. The ensuing four years "reign of terror" under Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people.
In 1979 the Khmer Rouge were overthrown and the Vietnamese-backed People's Republic of Kampuchea was established. Throughout the 1980's Cambodia began to rebuild with the assistance of Vietnamese military and political advisers whilst under Vietnamese political protection.
In 1989 the Vietnamese withdrew the last of their troops and the government renamed the country State of Cambodia. The SOC ruled independently until the Paris Peace Agreement 1991 created the United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAC). Supported by the presence of some 22,000 UN troops, UNTAC in May 1993 supervised general elections in Cambodia. A second general election was held in 1998. Cambodia today enjoys a parliamentary system with one prime minister.
A constitution was adopted in 1993, the same year King Norodom Sihanouk returned to the throne. His Majesty remains a symbol of national unity to his people.
Today Cambodia is still a poor country but there is reason to be optimistic about its future. The Cambodian economy is growing quite rapidly. The fastest growing industry in Cambodia is tourism. The country is politically stable and a safe place to visit to enjoy the wonderful Khmer people and the beautiful Cambodian attractions.
For an understanding of the recent tragic history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge you could simply watch the award winning movie "The Killing Fields".
Many books have also been written on the subject including -
"First they Killed my Father" by Loung Ung - a moving story about a young girls experience under the ruthless rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
"Brother Number One" by David Chandler - A biography of the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot.
Ultimate Cambodia - Excellent travel guide
There are numerous resources available about elephants -
Link to the national geographic online
Link to wikipedia on elephants
Link to BBC's wildfacts