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Mondulkiri elephant row continues

Buffet, one of the elephants living on the Elephant Valley Project grounds
Buffet, one of the elephants living on the Elephant Valley Project grounds, walks through a forested area of the ecotourism initiative’s compound in Mondulkiri province. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Mondulkiri elephant row continues

An Eco-tourism initiative in Mondulkiri province will remain open for daytime visits only for the time being, after authorities heard from officials at the Elephant Valley Project (EVP) and locals who complain the NGO siphons tourism money.

EVP officials met with people who filed complaints with Sen Monorom town officials on Friday, just two days after town authorities ordered EVP to shut down its onsite accommodations and restaurant, saying it lacks a proper guesthouse licence.

“It was clear from the meeting on Friday that the tour guides submitting the complaint did not represent the owners and keepers of elephants as they claimed to do,” Jack Highwood, EVP’s manager, said via email yesterday. “Their numerous accusations against us were false and based on hearsay, not actual research or evidence.”

No official agreement was made by the end of the meeting, but Highwood said he expects another one will take place later this week.

A long-running animosity exists between local tour guides – some of whom include elephant rides in their tours – and EVP, which brands itself as an ethical alternative to traditional tours in the area, said Phearakech Than, a tour guide in Sen Monorom, who signed one of the letters of complaint and attended Friday’s meeting.

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.

“On their [website], they accuse local people [of cruelty],” Than said yesterday. “[They say] we do not care for our elephants, we don’t give them enough water.”

Chear Chantorn, who owns a local guesthouse and attended the meeting, added that local restaurant and guesthouse proprietors lose tourists through rumours posted on EVP’s website that insinuate their complicity in the alleged animal cruelty.

“[Highwood] said we use the elephants for our benefit only, that we do not care about the elephants,” said Chantorn, who argued that the ethnic Phnong community that lives in the area respects its elephants. “He also accused us of cutting out elephant meat to eat after they die.”

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