An eco-tourism initiative in Mondulkiri hit a snag this week when authorities asked management to vacate overnight guests while provincial officials determine whether the project is properly licensed to operate a guesthouse.
Guests of the Elephant Valley Project (EVP), which is located in a Forestry Administration-protected area in Mondulkiri’s Sen Monorom town, have been temporarily moved from the onsite guesthouse to another guesthouse in town while staff resolve the matter with local officials, said Jack Highwood, manager at EVP.
“The government has just asked us to stop hosting people overnight and we are having a series of meetings next week,” he said, adding that visitors are still allowed to tour the grounds during the day.
The local government’s move came after it received more than five complaints from elephant tourism operators and guesthouses that say Elephant Valley has been siphoning off tourism income since its establishment in 2005, said Phou Rin, commune clerk of Sen Monorom’s Romnea commune.
Investigating the matter, Rin said, officials found that guesthouses must be licensed by the provincial Ministry of Tourism. But the ministry cannot license guesthouses on Forestry Administration land because it falls under the Ministry of Agriculture’s jurisdiction.
EVP has been operating under an agreement with the Forestry Administration and works closely with local government, Highwood said. But a current lack of legislation regarding eco-tourism complicates the matter.
Tension between EVP and other tourism operators have existed since EVP opened, promoting itself as an ethical alternative to elephant riding tours.
Tourists at EVP are allowed to observe elephants – many of which are sick or injured and being cared for by project staff – as they roam the grounds.
Elephant tour guides have complained that EVP unfairly portrays their operations, which often include elephant rides, as cruel to the animals.