Sanctuary Ethos

These days there are many imitation elephant sanctuaries

Just about anyone can say they have the elephant’s best interest in mind, but do they really?

Where we stand.

Our  key motivation over the past 10 years in developing the Elephant Valley Project has been to set an example for how to look after and treat elephants. Being a highly endangered animal our main goal is to give the elephants back their independence, natural behavior and dignity.

Our goal is to simply let the elephants just be elephants in a stress free natural habitat.

Finding out how to actually achieve this has played a major part in how we do what we do at our elephant sanctuary. The process has been a real journey, but this is how we arrived at developing our elephants’ routine treatment and the program with which our volunteers and visitors interact with elephants in a responsible way, down to a fine art.

From a visitor’s point of view this implies that ‘putting the elephants first’ also means that we don’t do many of the activities that you can find elsewhere (feeding, swimming, riding) and in turn we feel that this difference has come to define why we are an actual sanctuary for captive elephants.

Just because a tourism company has the words “project”, “sanctuary”, or “community” does not necessarily mean they are actually doing any good for the elephants, forest, or local people. Or remotely comparable to what we do as an NGO. We are true advocates for the Asian elephant in everything we do, we do with them in mind and the local people and forest are absolutely tied to that. This shows 100% in our work and we are certain you will see this when you come for a visit.

We are NOT the “Mondulkiri Project”

Do not be fooled, there is only one Elephant Valley Project and that is us. 

Elephant Riding

  • Sambo Before EVP

  • Sambo At EVP

This is not something we support nor offer at EVP. Popular across much of Asia, riding elephants is a relatively easy way for an elephant owner (don’t forget that an elephant is an expensive creature to care for and their owners have to find a means to pay for this) to earn an income.

Done correctly, for example bareback without the big basket, it does not harm the elephant.

Done incorrectly, it can be one of the worst methods of working an elephant, which unfortunately is the case for most elephants working this way at the moment.

An elephant sanctuary however is a place where an elephant gets the chance to live a more natural existence and there is no place for such an activity. When we first started the EVP, for the first 6 months, we actually rode the elephants bareback when they went to graze, but soon found that it is far more interesting to actually observe the elephant being an elephant.

Needless to say it is also better for the elephant as they can freely dust or throw mud on themselves. Morally speaking, it is also odd to think that it is ‘OK’ to ride an elephant that is so rare and not acceptable to ride another animal of equivalent endangered status such as a panda, tiger, giraffe or hippo.

Activities such as riding go hand in hand with painting, dancing, and any other sort of exploitative practice that keep elephants in detrimental living and working conditions.

Swimming with Elephants

Also popular with visitors throughout South East Asia is “bathing” with elephants.

Many people while on an elephant trek are invited to strip down to bikinis/shorts and jump in a river or pool and ‘swim with an elephant’. Apart from the fact that this is culturally insensitive to the local population (as they are quite conservative in comparison to our western ways and rarely show much skin or body shape), this is also inherently unnatural for an elephant and has no place in a true elephant sanctuary.

For example, you would never be invited to go and swim with wild elephants in a river, so why would you jump into a river with a captive elephant? The elephants would never choose for visitors to join them; they prefer to lie down, kick around and enjoy themselves. But when carrying people or having a group of visitors surround them in the water they are forced to stay still and it becomes just another performance.

This may be “fun” for tourists it is not good for an elephant. 

Also, swimming with elephants is NOT SAFE for various reasons. Asian elephants can weigh three to four tons and can move through water far quicker than a human. There are also serious concerns about the transmission of tropical infections, both from and to humans such as tuberculosis. Even more likely is the very real risk of bacterial infections being passed to tourists due to the urine and fecal matter in the water used by elephants.

So what is an elephant sanctuary?

An elephant sanctuary, by its very definition, is a safe place for elephants to live.

It is a place that allows elephants to stop working, retire and slowly become real elephants again in their natural habitat.

It is a place where the elephants’ best interests always come first and not the visitors’ desires.

Where the elephants make the choice of what they want to do on a daily basis.

It is a place where they can live with a higher degree of freedom and dignity that they have not before experienced, in a space that never before seemed possible.

It is not a place where people line up to hand feed elephants, or where the elephant has to beg or perform.

It is not a place where people ride around on them and then swim around in a river with them.

EVP is a place where elephants have a second chance at being a real elephant again.

Here we do what is best for elephants, plain and simple.