The Current Situation
Sanctuaries and conservation projects, similar to ELIE and the Elephant Valley Project Cambodia, have been feeling the dramatic cut in funding from the effects of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. These funding shortages are going to have long term impacts on the animals, forest and communities across the globe.
We have historically not received funding from other organisations for the core operations, community and conservation projects and we are solely reliant on the sustainable ecotourism model we have developed. The current Covid-19 pandemic has seen our visitor numbers drop significantly and we had to make the difficult decision to close to all visitors for a few months at the start of the pandemic. Unfortunately, this has led to cutbacks in the overall budget for the elephants and also including our human healthcare access program which seriously endangers the lives of the vulnerable indigenous group with whom we work so closely with.
Slowly Cambodia is reopening and we are following the government guidelines closely. We reopened the Elephant Valley Project to guests in early June 2020, but only have had a trickle of visitors coming in who are already within Cambodia. Due to the global situation and multiple lockdowns around the world, we do not foresee many international tourists for the rest of this year, therefore our primary source of funding is still majorly cut off.
While currently caring for 11 elephants within our sanctuary, ELIE also supports the local Bunong community of elephant owners around the province with our Mobile Vet Team. Vet fees and medical costs can be small or larger in an emergency, but we want to continue to provide this critical care for the last remaining populations of elephants.
Our dedicated team of mahouts will still continue to work closely with their elephants each and every single day. However, this requires a salary. Injured elephants will still continue to receive treatment to their ongoing issues, but we will need medicine for that. Our elderly residents rely on daily food supplements: Banana trees, sugarcane, fruit, tamarind and rice, all purchased from markets in the community and town. At the same time, we still need to support the community to protect the forest home of the elephants, as well as recognizing the communities land, livelihoods and support systems also depend on this forest. All of this requires a steady stream of funding over the coming months.
On the human side we also support health care access, education and livelihood development. One of our flagship programs is providing healthcare access to the residents of three remote Bunong villages. Basic necessities like transportation and finances to fund the treatments are provided by us.
Our second support program that has been running since establishing the sanctuary is a direct compensation to each family of the village for elephants using their community forest. We established this as a rice support pack for each family per month – 78 families receive 30kgs of rice per month. This also supports the most vulnerable members of the community, when in times of crisis like drought or crop failures, or now a global pandemic, families can still rely on essential food supplies, all because the elephants and ecotourism program are here. This valuable support program is at risk due to our lack of funds, which threatens the food security of this community even more, particularly in this current crisis.
Through this pandemic, ELIE has tried its best to continue to provide these services, while providing accurate information about the Covid virus, promoting social distancing and self-isolation within the community. We are directly supporting the community in taking all necessary precautions to flatten the curve, as well as keeping our vehicles on the road as emergency vehicles helping the community access the health services that are available.
What your support will do
First and foremost, our goal is to sustain and bolster ELIE’s innovative elephant welfare, community support and forest protection programs already in place. The loss in income from wildlife-based tourism programs due to COVID-19 has severely impacted our organization’s fiscal and staff capacity to continue these successful programs. With the overall goal of these programs already to support long-term care for the elephants, vet outreach programs and to create resiliency, well-being and sustainability within the communities we work, bolstering these programs with the funds from donors, while the tourism industry recovers, is critical moving ahead.
While at the same time, with the drop in tourism numbers and income due to the pandemic, it is clear that ELIE and the EVP need to diversify income streams to enable the continuation of the programs we are operating. This realization is also true within the communities we partner with, exhibiting a severe need to explore new opportunities for income generation and adaptation of current traditional ecological practices and knowledge to plan better for the future. If we are able to secure funding for our current programs to continue, our community program will also seek to:
- Identify new innovative sustainable agriculture models to support local livelihoods.
- Identify further funding models for elephant welfare and conservation programs
- Strengthen and adapt programs to protect Cambodia’s remaining forests, biodiversity, and elephants.
- Look towards the future and prepare for other emerging critical conservation issues such as human-elephant conflict.
The challenges we now face due to this pandemic are extreme and challenging. Undoubtedly, this will not be the last crisis our organization and the local communities we work with will meet. As Cambodia continues to experience rapid deforestation and biodiversity loss, unfortunately further crisis locally and globally may become a reality if we do not adapt and stay focused on the work needed. We hope through generating donations, securing grants and corporate donations; we can support the Bunong people and their elephants in surviving this current period and also finding new community-based solutions for a resilient and sustainable elephant and community support program.